Lacks the soul-fire of a Doctor Zhivago, but this is a memorable depiction of what Pasternak called Russia’s “damned...

STALIN’S CHILDREN

THREE GENERATIONS OF LOVE, WAR, AND SURVIVAL

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.”

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1714-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

more