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Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival
     

Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival

4.3 4
by Owen Matthews
 

A transcendent history/memoir of one family's always passionate, sometimes tragic connection to Russia.

On a midsummer day in 1937, a black car pulled up to a house in Chernigov, in the heart of the Ukraine. Boris Bibikov—Owen Matthews's grandfather—kissed his wife and two young daughters good-bye and disappeared inside the car. His family never

Overview

A transcendent history/memoir of one family's always passionate, sometimes tragic connection to Russia.

On a midsummer day in 1937, a black car pulled up to a house in Chernigov, in the heart of the Ukraine. Boris Bibikov—Owen Matthews's grandfather—kissed his wife and two young daughters good-bye and disappeared inside the car. His family never saw him again. His wife would soon vanish as well, leaving Lyudmila and Lenina alone to drift across the vast Russian landscape during World War II. Separated as the Germans advanced in 1941, they were miraculously reunited against all odds at the war's end.

Some twenty-five years later, in the early 1960s, Mervyn Matthews—Owen's father—followed a lifelong passion for Russia and moved to Moscow to work for the British embassy. He fell in and out with the KGB, and despite having fallen in love with Lyudmila, he was summarily deported. For the next six years, Mervyn worked day and night to get Lyudmila out of Russia, and when he finally succeeded, they married.

Decades on from these events, Owen Matthews—then a young journalist himself in Russia—came upon his grandfather's KGB file recording his "progress from life to death at the hands of Stalin's secret police." Stimulated by its revelations, he has pieced together the tangled and dramatic threads of his family's past and present, making sense of the magnetic pull that has drawn him back to his mother's homeland. Stalin's Children is an indelible portrait of Russia over seven decades and an unforgettable memoir about how we struggle to define ourselves in opposition to our ancestry only to find ourselves aligning with it.

"I came to Russia to get away from my parents," writes Matthews. "Instead I found them there, though for a long time I didn't know it or refused to see it. This is a story about Russia and my family, about a place which made us and freed us and inspired us and very nearly broke us. And it's ultimately a story about escape, about how we all escaped from Russia, even though all of us—even my father, a Welshman, who has no Russian blood, even me, who grew up in England—still carry something of Russia inside ourselves, infecting our blood like a fever."

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Few books say so much about Russia then and now, and its effect on those it touches.” —Economist

“[A] resonant memoir…Call it irrationality, call it Russian maximalism, but the letters, papers and confidences Matthews inhabits in Stalin's Children rehabilitate all the generations they touch--including his own--showing how their times shaped their choices.” —New York Times Book Review

“A moving book written with a tender yet unsentimental eye, a deeply intimate account that reveals through the lives of Matthews' own family how the Soviet experience shaped, and destroyed, millions of people.” —Seattle Times

“At a time when Russia is reasserting itself on the international stage,"Stalin's Children" should be required reading for anyone involved with economic, cultural or political relations with that country.... [A]n epic tale pitting the human spirit against the utopias and the dark realities that shaped Russian governance over three generations.... [A] narrative that moves seamlessly back and forth through history...a timeless portrait of the Russian soul.... All in all Mathews' contribution offers a poignant and insightful reading experience, leaving one with a keener sense of the unseen forces that drive present-day Russia.” —The New York Post

“Few countries have been haunted more by a terrible past than Russia. In StalinÕs Children Owen Matthews has written of the ghosts of his own family, with grandparents arrested in the Great Terror and his mother consigned to a Soviet orphanage when still an infant. His parentsÕ love for each other, kept alight across the Iron Curtain, makes an extraordinary story. This wonderful memoir brings to life the human victims of a terrifyingly inhuman system.” —Sunday Telegraph

“[A] fascinating family memoir. Matthews relates this dramatic tale in understated but lovely prose...[an] extraordinary tale.” —Publishers Weekly

“A heartbreaking, romantic and utterly compelling piece of reportage that superbly tells the story of four generations of the author's own family across 20th Century Russia, from Tsarist aristocracy to Stalinist elite, from the torture chambers of Stalin's Terror and the honeytraps of 1960s KGB to the coke-snorting orgies of 1990s Moscow Babylon and the battlefields of Chechnya. Here is an astonishing personal history of love, death and betrayal in Russia by a half-Russian writer who really knows the texture of the Motherland.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar and Young Stalin

author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar an Simon Sebag Montefiore
A heartbreaking, romantic and utterly compelling piece of reportage that superbly tells the story of four generations of the author's own family across 20th Century Russia, from Tsarist aristocracy to Stalinist elite, from the torture chambers of Stalin's Terror and the honeytraps of 1960s KGB to the coke-snorting orgies of 1990s Moscow Babylon and the battlefields of Chechnya. Here is an astonishing personal history of love, death and betrayal in Russia by a half-Russian writer who really knows the texture of the Motherland.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802717146
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
09/16/2008
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Owen Matthews was born in London and spent part of his childhood in America. He studied modern history at Oxford University before beginning his career as a journalist in Bosnia. In 1995 he accepted a job at the Moscow Times, a daily English-language newspaper, and soon thereafter discovered his grandfather's file. In 1997 he became a correspondent at Newsweek magazine in Moscow, where he covered the second Chechen war. He was one of the first journalists to witness the start of U.S. bombing in the Panshir Valley in Afghanistan after 9/11, and covered the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He is currently Newsweek's bureau chief in Moscow, where he lives with his wife and two children.

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Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Owen Matthews weaves an unforgettable tale in this celebration of his family and the lives that they lived both by choice and by force. Matthews' mother is Russian and his father is Welsh and their love story is the central theme of this memoir. With their letters to each other serving as a springboard, Matthews gives us an intimate portrait of how much his Mother, Lyudmila, and his father, Mervyn, fought to keep alive their love, a love that was considered inconvenient by both their governments. Both Lyudmila and Meryvn came from family background that would scar them in physical and mental ways. Lyudmila's father Boris Bibikov was a loyal party member who served his government without question. He saw the deaths and brutalizations that his beloved government carried out but he excused it all because he like many party members believed that the communist philosophy was supreme. The hunger and starvation that farmers suffered due to collectivization were not unknown to him but they were inconvenient truths that he was not ready to deal with, so he ignored them. But Bibikov did not just ignore the atrocities, he also benefited directly by being a minion of the state, living in a beautiful house, buying foreign goods and taking vacations in beautiful sanatoriums. Unfortunately for Bibikov, he later sides with Sergei Kirov who was seen by many at the time as Stalin's heir apparent. Bibikov like many who took this stand thought that Stalin was slowly going to step down and did not realize that their stance would eventually lead to their demise. Kirov dies quite unexpectedly and all his supporters realize that they are in hot water. But Stalin like the master manipulator he was, does not take any action for awhile. He even promotes some of Kirov's supporters, Bibikov included. Just when some thought it was over, Stalin exacts his revenge and all or most of Kirov's support are dragged into jail, brutalize, tortured and made to confess to conspiracy against their government. Bibikov is one of this number and he is seized while on vacation. His family never sees him again. Left behind are his wife,Martha, and his two young daughters, Lenina and Lyudmila. Their lives are reduced to extreme poverty in a matter of days and eventually Martha is hurled into jail where she remains for a little over a decade. Somewhere in her twenties, Lyudmila meets Mervyn, a diplomat at first and later student. They form a deep attachment and love for each other. But unfortunately for them Mervyn finds himself being recruited by the KGB who think that by wowing him with nice meals, fancy vacations and talk of a better world, he will turn against his government. But when he continuously refuses, he is eventually repatriated. The rest of the book chronicles his fight to marry the woman he loves and the Russian government's refusal to allow this and his own government's ineptitude in offering any help. Through it all, Lyudmila and Mervyn write letters to each other for five years, vowing their love and continued fight to be together. This book is fascinating and the writer is a master storyteller who somehow manages to keep all of the story interesting. Matthews family history is the history of Russia and a testament to cold war politics. I could not put this book down and every page was a discovery. I was saddened by the end but the facts of it I will leave the reader to discover on their own. I highly recommend this great book.
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