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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 9 (next | show all)
Russia is such an interesting and almost mysterious country. This book makes a sometimes shadowy time in history come alive and tells stories of people who were long forgotten.

I sometimes struggle with books about the guy on top being overthrown by the little guy. The way the Russian peasants lived was atrocious, and the high glitz and glamour of the Russian Aristocracy makes it even more so. However, should people be punished for an excess that they didn't create? Should they pay for it with their lives? I'm not so sure. While this book can't answer that question (what book could) it does give real food for thought in an easy to read manner. ( )
  sscarllet | Jul 1, 2014 |
Douglas Smith has written a fascinating and informative account of the end of the Russian aristocracy during the early twentieth century. The story of how an entire class of people were subjected to brutal and often arbitrary repression is heart-breaking - even more so as Smith focuses on two families: the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns whose personal stories bring a human perspective to the end of an era. Yet, not all the events are so grim: often there are glimmers of hope, love, and simple pleasures that provide some comfort amid the terror of Communist Russia.

Smith has used unprecedented access to family archives and utilises a number of important secondary sources too. This has allowed him to write one of the first books on this subject ever. This book is epic in scope and yet intimate in detail and is illuminating for the resilience of those described therein, and their perspective on the most tumultuous forty years of Russian history. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (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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