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Former People: The Final Days of the Russian…
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Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy (2012)

by Douglas Smith

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A sad though interesting read. The story of their downfall is relentless but spirits stayed high throughout to my amazement. Links to the history of the Gulag as many former people were sent there as punishment for belonging to the noble classes. ( )
  anna_acoria | Jan 14, 2014 |
Interesting but hard to get into and the Russian names were confusing ( many of the same names)

The riveting and harrowing story of the Russian nobility caught in the upheaval of the Revolution

Winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Kansas City Star and Salon

Epic in scope, precise in detail, and heartbreaking in its human drama, Former People is the first book to recount the history of the aristocracy caught up in the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of Stalin’s Russia. It is the story of how a centuries-old elite, famous for its glittering wealth, its service to the tsar and empire, and its promotion of the arts and culture, was dispossessed and destroyed along with the rest of old Russia. Chronicling the fate of two great aristocratic families—the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns—it reveals how even in the darkest depths of the terror, daily life went on.

Told with sensitivity and nuance by acclaimed historian Douglas Smith, Former People is the dramatic portrait of two of Russia’s most powerful aristocratic families and a sweeping account of their homeland in violent transition. ( )
  Suzanne_Mitchell | Dec 28, 2013 |
"Former people" - the very phrase invokes ghostly images. And though it's a rather loose translation of the Russian word "lishentzy" - meaning "people without any rights in the society", it's an adequate phrase, in the light of events portrayed in the book, to describe former nobles and aristocrats, those that didn't leave Russia after the Revolution of 1917. That's how the author refers to them throughout the book, concentrating on the fate of two most prominent noble families and their descendants - the Sheremetevs and the Golittsyns - but also touching upon countless more former nobles (counts and countesses, princes and princesses, aristocrats and landlords) and their lives on the brink of and after the Revolution. The book describes the futility of their efforts to stay afloat in this new political climate that totally disregarded them by not allowing them to work, or if they could find work to barely survive, they had to constantly be in fear of imprisonment for some dreamed up crimes against the new government. The paranoia of Lenin and Stalin is not a secret anymore, and it reflected on many more citizens in those first decades of the new state (up until Stalin's death in 1953), not just former nobles, but Douglas Smith collected invaluable evidence of how this particular class of people was treated. It only shows that it was Russia who lost - because all these people were highly educated and they could have been a great asset to any society in that regard (and they were more than willing to serve in professional capacity of any kind, even though stripped of all their possessions).

I think the author says it best in the end, summarizing his story:

"... the events described in this book, or, more precisely, the causes behind them, lie beyond reason, as much as we might like to think otherwise.... There was a randomness to the violence and repression that speaks to the illogical nature of Russian life in twentieth century... There simply is no way to explain why some perished and some survived. It was, and remains, inexplicable. It was chance or, as many Russians would have it, fate."

-- ( )
1 vote Clara53 | Jul 9, 2013 |
I confess when I first picked this up at the library, I was thinking it was going to be a Downton Abbey but with Russians kind of a book, and then it turned out to be a more serious history, with historical analysis and everything, so more of a dense read than I was expecting. But still awesome! And it will come in useful for at work when faculty ask me what I've read lately, because this doesn't seem as weird as saying The Black Stallion Returns which is usually what I've been reading.

It primarily looks at two prominent families, starting in the last years of the tsar and then covering the years of the revolution(s), Lenin, and through Stalin. As you might imagine (or maybe not, because I for one was imagining Downton Abbey with Russians, as I mentioned), things did not go well. The author does a great job of outlining the political and social upheavals they faced, and putting them in context alongside the sufferings of the peasants, the horrors inflicted upon the Jews, and the general dismal state of things for just about everyone else in Russia as well.

It's a tragic story, but also mesmerizing. And, as an added bonus, all the people and place names make you feel like you're reading Tolkien. We're fleeing the Tauride Palace and headed to Irkutsk, but avoiding the Ataman Semenov! I especially liked the accounts of families who fled east ahead of the Red Army, on the Trans Siberian Railroad. This is no doubt informed by my love of The Endless Steppe (hardship! living in boxcars!) and I feel like so many accounts from this era mention the beauty of Siberia, despite the fact of its being the site of exile. I dream of visiting Lake Baikal, which I just now read is the world's oldest lake. I don't even know how that is determined, but it makes the appeal even greater. The oldest lake in the world! ( )
1 vote delphica | Apr 26, 2013 |
A haunting look at the days following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and what happened to the aristocrats of Russia's old order. The story isn't a happy one. Douglas Smith has given us a book that tells of the struggle to survive of the Russian aristocracy following the fall of Tsarist Russia. Mainly focusing on the Golitsyns and the Sheremetevs, this book is heartbreaking. So much loss and devastation. ( )
  briandrewz | Apr 10, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Mr. Smith has written an engaging and absorbing book. If an exploration of the tragic fate of previously pampered people does little to expand our understanding of the Soviet system, his book does offer an opportunity to revisit some of its more horrific aspects.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Jennifer Siegel (Oct 26, 2012)
 

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Book description
The heart-breaking and brutal end of the Russian aristocracy.
In the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution, the tsarist ruling class - so-called 'former people' and 'class enemies' - were displaced, repressed and executed by Stalin's Red Army. Filled with chilling tales of looted palaces, burning estates, of desperate flights in the night from marauding bands of thugs and soldiers. Former People is the story of how a centuries'-old elite, famous for its glittering wealth and its promotion of the arts and culture, was dispossessed and destroyed along with the rest of old Russia.

Yet it is also a story of survival and accommodation, of how families fought to find a place for themselves in the new world of the Soviet Union, and struggled to live, love, raise their children and cherish simple pleasures. Epic in scope, intimate in detail, ultimately Former People is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374157618, Hardcover)

Epic in scope, precise in detail, and heart-breaking in its human drama, Former People is the first book to recount the history of the aristocracy caught up in the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of Stalin’s Russia. Filled with chilling tales of looted palaces and burning estates, of desperate flights in the night from marauding peasants and Red Army soldiers, of imprisonment, exile, and execution, it is the story of how a centuries’-old elite, famous for its glittering wealth, its service to the Tsar and Empire, and its promotion of the arts and culture, was dispossessed and destroyed along with the rest of old Russia.

Yet Former People is also a story of survival and accommodation, of how many of the tsarist ruling class—so-called “former people” and “class enemies”—overcame the psychological wounds inflicted by the loss of their world and decades of repression as they struggled to find a place for themselves and their families in the new, hostile order of the Soviet Union. Chronicling the fate of two great aristocratic families—the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns—it reveals how even in the darkest depths of the terror, daily life went on.

Told with sensitivity and nuance by acclaimed historian Douglas Smith, Former People is the dramatic portrait of two of Russia’s most powerful aristocratic families, and a sweeping account of their homeland in violent transition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:41 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Examines the fate of two Russian aristocratic families in a detailed account of the Bolshevik Revolution's effect on the upper class, discussing the relentless lootings, harrowing escapes, humbling exile and imprisonment, and summary executions that tookplace during this violent time of transition.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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