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Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival Hardcover – September 16, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717146
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,750,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For three generations of Matthews's family, Russia was a place that made us and freed us and inspired us and very nearly broke us. In this fascinating family memoir, Matthews, Newsweek's Moscow bureau chief, recounts that history. His maternal grandfather was executed in Stalin's purges in 1937. His mother, separated from her own mother for 11 years, grew up essentially as an orphan. But even more extraordinary is the tale of Matthews's parents' relationship. His father, Mervyn Matthews, was a British embassy staffer in Moscow turned graduate student who left Russia after the KGB tried to recruit him in 1960. Returning in 1963, he fell in love with a Soviet woman, but when he again refused to do business with the KGB, he was thrown out of the country. For the next several years, he lobbied to reunite with the woman who would become Matthews's mother, finally getting her out of the USSR in 1969. Drawing on KGB files and his parents' hundreds of letters from their years of separation in the 1960s, Matthews (now married to a Russian woman) relates this dramatic tale in understated but lovely prose. B&w illus. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Intense loyalty, painful separation, incredible hardship, and, above all, overriding love are all in Matthews's chronicle of his family's love-hate relationship with an evolving Russia. Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek, the author ably captures both the Soviet Union of the past and the present atmosphere of the new Russia. From his grandfather's execution during the Stalinist purges in the 1930s, through his mother's and aunt's deprivations in World War II, to his own fascination with the changing Russia of the 1990s, Matthews has created a testament to how deeply a country and a people can get into your blood. At its heart is the romance of the author's English father and Russian mother, who endured six years of forced separation on different continents, only to get married finally owing to their sheer diligence and strength of character. Interspersed are descriptions of Russian social life throughout the eras, meetings with KGB contacts, and the author's experiences in the Chechan war. Matthews is a consummate storyteller; that this family history is true makes it all the more enthralling. Recommended for public and academic libraries.—Maria C. Bagshaw, Ecolab, St. Paul
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Read another book about what happened.
Griswel
Matthews' mother is Russian and his father is Welsh and their love story is the central theme of this memoir.
TrishNYC
Matthews does the best job in describing the entire story with gritty realism.
S.R.W. Phillips

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Patrick W. Crabtree TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"...on 22 June 1941, Hitler launched the BLITZKRIEG assault codenamed Operation Barbarosa, which quickly crushed Soviet resistance." (p. 79).

This was the genesis of a perceptibly endless and cruel roller-coaster ride for two young Russian girls, respectively the mother and the aunt of the author, Owen Matthews. Lyudmila and Lenina Bibikov had already lost their father, a devout Communist Party notable who, in Stalin's paranoia-based purge of perceived enemies, died by the sword by which he had lived.

This is the compelling 287-page non-fictional account of multiple generations of a family whose roots were Russian and which was horrifically impacted by the totalitarian leadership and policies of the former Soviet Union -- and yet it is also an inspiring story of ultimate success against grim odds of survival. Facets of this story's sidelights are both shocking and graphic, ergo, the selling of the body parts of children in the public market, meat to feed a horrifically starving culture.

The author (who was born in London) is currently the bureau chief in Moscow for Newsweek Magazine. His research for this book was quite difficult and chaotic due to Russian red tape still prevalent subsequent to the fall of the Soviet Union. Owen's father, Mervyn Matthews, had worked in the British Embassy in Moscow and was ultimately deported after some KGB chaos. It took him six years to get the author's mother out of Russia before they could be re-united and married.

This book isn't what I'd call a hot page-turner but it is indeed a compelling tale and provides the reader with some "bottom-up" snapshots of day-to-day life in the Soviet Union.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By terroh VINE VOICE on October 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As memoirs go, this chronicle of 3 generations of a Russian family allmost destroyed by Stalin's purges is a good one. Unfortunately, the most riveting parts of the tale occur in the first part of the book where the family patriarch is destroyed and the rest of the family is scattered and emotionally damaged, left to try to survive the German invasion. Once the author starts to talk about his English father and his own life in the USSR, the book hits a dry patch. The thwarted romance between his father and his Russian mother who battle long odds to be together is moving, but could've been better edited. Worth reading for Russianophiles and history buffs. Since this is the author's own family, it gives the story an extra dose of emotion for the reader...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Martin P. McCarthy VINE VOICE on September 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In "Stalin's Children" Owen Matthews gives us his memoir through the lenses of his parents Mervyn and Mila and his grandparents (both his English and Russian grandparents).

Matthews' story begins with his Russian grandparents Boris and Martha Bibikov. The Bibikov's had the unfortunate luck of Boris being a lower level party functionary during the time in Russian History known as "The Great Purges." The Purges were akin to Hitler's "Night of the Long Knives" in purpose but differ in scope and intensity. While the "Night of the Long Knives" was an extra-legal affair, the Purges were stamped with the imprimatur of legality with all its victims receiving a trial (a "show trial"). The centerpiece of these trials was the accused's "confession" which was obtained after the use of various forms of torture (including a technique we now know as "Waterboarding). Boris was arrested and received a secret "trial" and was summarily executed.

Matthews' work explores how his family in particular and Russia in general (Stalin's children) have coped and continue to cope with Stalin's legacy. Between the purges and the consequences of Stalin's disastrous 5 Year Plans, the loss of life in the Soviet Union was absolutely staggering. Matthews' narrative will jump from that of his parents and grandparents to his own. The transitions can be jarring but given what Matthews is trying to communicate, the reader should be jarred. The memoir is a compelling page-turner and is both timely and relevant.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By rsoonsa VINE VOICE on September 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It would be expected that skilled journalist Owen Matthews would construct a work that is well-written and accessible to most readers, but not necessarily one that is so layered with an author's emotional complexity that it must be, in this instance, considered a superior narrative of personal history. Described with prose that is both graceful and incisively ironic is a storyline largely contained within the U.S.S.R., from its earliest days beneath Bolshevik control until the late twentieth century. In 1997 Matthews discovered, somewhat by chance in Kiev, a hoary KGB intelligence file concerned with his maternal grandfather, Boris Bibikov, executed in 1937 as an enemy of the state. With this information as bedrock, the author constructs an affecting account of his ancestral history over seven decades, its linchpin being the intensely romantic relationship between his Welsh father Mervyn and Russian mother Lyudmila, who had met while studying at Moscow University in 1967, and married six years after, following a lengthy separation during which they exchanged letters daily, many of these being reproduced, in whole or part, here. Having been extruded from the Soviet Union following his refusal to assist the K.G.B., Mervyn then lobbied throughout Europe to obtain an exit visa that would permit Lyudmila to leave the U.S.S.R. and join her lover in England. Successful in the attempt (by means of a "spy swap") after years of failure the pair was wed, settling in Pimlico, England, and one of the more intriguing elements of the book depicts the couple's disenchantment with their subsequent comparatively placid existence, in contrast with the five years of struggling to wrest Lyudmila from Soviet tentacles.Read more ›
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