Stalin's Children

Stalin's Children : Three Generations of Love and War

  • Hardback
By (author) Owen Matthews

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On a midsummer day in 1937, the young Commissar Boris Bibikov kissed his two daughters goodbye and disappeared into the official Packard waiting outside. It was the last time his family ever saw him. Arrested by Stalin's secret police, the loyal Party man confessed to a grotesque series of crimes against the Revolution. His wife, an Enemy of the People by association, was sent to the gulag, leaving the young Lyudmila and Lenina alone to face separation in a world turned suddenly cold. Lyudmila grew up a fighter, and when she fell in love with a tall young foreigner in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, she knew there would be further battles ahead. Naively infatuated with Russia, Mervyn Matthews had embarked on a dangerous flirtation with the KGB. But when finally asked to work for the organisation, he refused. Revenge came quickly: Mervyn was thrown out of the country; Lyudmila lost her job. For six years, stranded on opposite sides of the ideological divide that shaped their generation, they kept their love alive in a daily stream of letters - some anguished, some funny, but all suffused with a hope that they would eventually be reunited. Decades later, Owen Matthews pieces together his grandfather's passage through the harrowing world of Stalin's purges, and tells the story of his parents' Cold War love affair through their letters and memories. Interspersed with the story of his family is his own journey as a young reporter in nineties Moscow. This is a raw, vivid memoir about a young man's struggle to understand his parents' lives and the strange country which 'made us and freed us and very nearly broke us.'

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  • Hardback | 320 pages
  • 02 Jun 2008
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • London
  • 0747591814
  • 9780747591818
  • 1,080,615

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Author Information

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. He also freelanced for a number of publications including The Times, the Spectator and the Independent. In 1997, he became a correspondent at Newsweek magazine in Moscow where he covered the second Chechen war, as well as politics and society. Owen was also one of the first journalists to witness the start of the US bombing in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan, 2001, and went on to cover the invasion of Iraq, 2003. Owen is currently Newsweek magazine's bureau chief in Moscow, where he lives with his wife and two children.

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Review quote

'Heartbreaking, romantic and utterly compelling' Simon Sebag Monefiore

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Review text

A small saga of memory, loss and reconnection in a land where millions of people have disappeared for political purposes.Boris Bibikov specialized in finding - and sometimes inventing, it would seem - the kind of heroic worker for whom socialism was invented and without whom socialism could never exist, such as a machinist who assembled an excavator in six days, "not two weeks as the manufacturer's guide said." Bibikov also took it upon himself to "raise the level of socialist consciousness" of the workers in the Ukrainian factory he helped oversee, spending afterwork hours teaching Marxist-Leninist theory to the rank and file. Regrettably for him, his experience of the famine of the winter of 1931 - 32 caused him to doubt the eternal wisdom of supreme leader Josef Stalin, whose agents must have sensed a change in Bibikov's thinking and so came for him with a Black Maria in the middle of the night. Matthews, Bibikov's grandson and the Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek, travels to his ancestral homeland to examine its soul in the wake of communism, an era in which "Russians had lost much of their culture, their religion, their God; and many of them also lost their minds," in which an "absolute, bottomless nihilism" had now replaced totalitarianism. Matthews's travels yield an affecting family memoir, centered on not just Bibikov but also his daughter, who married Matthews's English father after considerable travail involving his expulsion from Stalinist Russia and years of efforts to extract Lyudmila from it, efforts that have an epic quality all their own. The memoir ranges from the child's-eye view of a grown-up world that "smelled of French cigarettes and Darjeeling tea" to an aware, adult comprehension of lives marked and marred by privation, terror and uncertainty - and to a reckoning of what Russians paid for the deformed social experiments of their rulers.Lacks the soul-fire of a Doctor Zhivago, but this is a memorable depiction of what Pasternak called Russia's "damned capacity for suffering. (Kirkus Reviews)

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