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Koba the Dread Hardcover – July 17, 2002

4.0 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Everyone knows what the Holocaust was, but, Amis points out, there is no name for and comparatively little public awareness of the killing that took place in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1933, when 20 million died under a Bolshevik regime that ruled as if waging war against its own people. Why? The U.S.S.R. was effectively a gigantic prison system that was very good at keeping its grisly secrets. Too, communism had widespread support in the rest of the world, as Amis reminds us. Not quite a memoir, this book sandwiches a lengthy treatise on the horror of life in Leninist and Stalinist Russia between Amis's brief personal takes on his gradually dawning awareness of Soviet atrocities. In his first and final pages, he deals with three generations of dupes who supported Soviet rule: that of H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw; that of novelist Kingsley Amis, the writer's father and member of the Communist Party in the 1940s; and that of leftist contemporaries of Martin Amis himself, notably the writer Christopher Hitchens. Throughout, Amis snipes at Hitchens in particular ( What about the famine?' I once asked him. There wasn't a famine,' he said, smiling slightly and lowering his gaze. There may have been occasional shortages....' ) Alexander Solzhenitsyn tried to tell the West about Stalinism in the '70s, but this grim patriarch had no appeal for the New Left, a generation interested only in revolution as play, Amis says. Most readers won't be interested in the author's private quarrels, but in the bulk of the book he relates passionately a story that needs to be told, the history of a regime that murdered its own people in order to build a better future for them.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This passionate and intensely personal book by novelist Amis (London Fields) evokes a terrible crime, in fact several million crimes. Koba is Joseph Stalin, the 20 million his victims. Interwoven with his impressionistic narrative (which owes much to Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Anglo-American historian Robert Conquest) are details of Amis's family history, along with his sparring with the memory of his late father, Kingsley, and a close friend, the English journalist Christopher Hitchens, both one-time defenders of Soviet rule. Amis cuts to and from these and other personalities, throwing in details of the appalling horrors of Stalinist misrule, in a kaleidoscopic narrative flow. Who was worse: the Little Mustache (Hitler) or the Big Mustache (Stalin)? Why is the latter's evil not as widely acknowledged as the former's? Amis concludes his book with a single family death, contrasting its pathos with, in Stalin's celebrated expression, the "mere statistic" of the death of millions. A personal and polemical reaction to human and historical tragedy on both a small and a large scale, this is not an easy read. While the book reveals nothing new historiographically, it will appeal to admirers of Amis's literary panache. Robert H. Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, ON
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Miramax; First Edition edition (July 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786868767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786868766
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on September 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Martin Amis' analysis of Stalin and the Soviet terror begins with a simple yet probing question: Why can people joke about Stalin, the USSR, and their past "flirtations" with communism, while no one can (in acceptable society) make similar jokes about Hitler and National Socialist Germany? In delving into this and related questions, he draws conclusions that make this title, despite its weaknesses, essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand twentieth century history.
The bulk of the book is taken up by Amis' chronicle of Stalin and his terror. He challenges Stalin's comment that "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic," and draws us into Stalin's bizarre fantasy world -- his war against truth and, indeed, reality. The resultant tens of millions of individual tragedies -- Amis' citations from Solzhenitsyn and other are harrowing -- show how shameful it is that these stories are not as well known as those from the Holocaust.
Uncovering why this is true makes up the final, and arguably most important, part of the book. That's because Amis takes aim at the myth -- so often heard even from people who should know better -- that Stalin's "excesses" were not endemic to communism, but rather were a result of the "cult of personality" that undermined true communism. Amis is having none of it. Terror, famine, slavery, and failure, "monotonous and incorrigible failure" (p. 30) are, he argues, the inevitable "Communist tetrarchy."
For Amis, the lesson of the twentieth century is what it teaches about Leftism and "revolution." Much of this book is intensely personal, because Amis believes some of his dearest friends -- and, for a while, his father as well -- were duped by Stalin and his mania. In wrestling with the ghost of Stalin, Amis is wrestling too with their demons, and his own. After gazing, in these pages, upon the twenty million, his conclusion that "the Revolution was a lie" (p. 258) is hard to refute.
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Format: Hardcover
The construction of Amis's book on Stalin is extremely unconventional, which, unfortunately seems to be all the grounds some critics need to trash it. His exploration of why its considered acceptable in many circles (particularly the intellectual left) to joke about Stalin, the USSR, and communism (as opposed to Hitler, Nazi Germany, and National Socialism), begins and ends with very personal sections which bookend an overview of Stalin's rule and his use of the police state bequeathed to him by Lenin to cause the death of some 20 million of his subjects. Amis comes at this in reflection of his recently deceased father, who was himself a communist for some 15 years. The first part of the book is a sort of dialogue with not only his father as he was, but also his good friend Christopher Hitchens, who in Amis's view, is a the embodiment of the problem-a smart public intellectual who refuses to totally denounce the former USSR.
Next, the heart of the book provides a primer on Stalinist terror, cribbed from a number of sources. Here, the critics once again open up, curiously accosting Amis on roughly three points (A) Amis isn't telling us anything we didn't already know, (B) Amis is simply cribbing from other books, (C) Amis's sources are weak. The response to A is that Amis never claims that he's providing new information, quite the contrary. His point is that how could we (Western lefties) know all this and not totally distance themselves from it? Furthermore, I suggest that the argument that people already know is only valid up to a certain age. As a thirty-year-old with an honors degree in international relations, I knew the gist of Stalinist times, but certainly not the level of detail Amis provides.
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Format: Hardcover
That this book has already caused consternation, and more significantly a somewhat neverous puzzlement as to why it even had to be written at all, has vindicated the thesis. Nowhere does the author claim to have undertaken original scholarship, and nor was such his point. He could quite possibly be the first English language novelist to bring any kind compelling imagination not only to life under the Soviet state but to the workings of the minds of Stalin and those Bolsheviks who left him a blueprint for a police state, minds defined by an "unpunctuated self-righteousness", to borrow Amis's absolutely perfect phrase. Yes, many Western intellectuals distanced themselves from the Great Terror and the Show Trials, some begrudgingly when reality was irrefutable, and there were certainly Western leaders who opposed Communism because they knew first-hand what was eminating from the Kremlin. But the opposition to Communism in the West, though official policy, was never given any intellectual credibility. And still isn't, although the tag Marxist or Trostkyite can still today summon up an aura of social conscience and intellectual rigor. Meanwhile Robert Conquest was a rightwing "Cold Warrior" for having been honest and accurate. And this is because much of the Western world continues to see its intellectual history through a leftist lense. It's still considered reactionary to dwell for too long on the ideological roots of the Soviet union. Yes, we know Stalin was awful, the assumption seems to be, but the ideals remain intact. And yet the ideals, to remake society and perfect human nature, could only preclude humanity in order to achieve fufillment. The police state, as Amis says, was inherent in the ideals.Read more ›
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