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Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty…

Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (2002)

by Martin Amis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Better Book Title: That Stalin Guy? Actually Kind of a Jerk. ( )
  annedp | May 30, 2013 |
wow. just. wow. It's almost as if after The Information Martin Amis disappeared and was replaced by some lamer version of himself. I don't know what this book is for -- it sorta extends his autobiography, Experience, and it sorta is a history lesson (but not really). I like it because people often forget that Stalin was a mass murderer worse than the Nazis. But he was quieter about it. But Amis doesn't do himself any favors by comparing his own child's cry to the sounds in a Russian prison. Really? Your baby sounds like it's suffering like that? Go feed it. ( )
  evanroskos | Mar 30, 2013 |
After reading Jasper Becker's Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine about the famine and preposterous claims of super-abundant grain crops, based on the pseudo-scientific theories of the Ukrainian Trofim Lysenko, I read Martin Amis' Koba the Dread. Laughter and the twenty million.

The problem with this book is that Martin Amis, particularly in his later work, can best be described as a self-obsessed jerk, who finds himself, actually, much more interesting than the Great Terror and famine he writes about, in a light and sarcastic style. However, all the main facts and gruesome detail are there, including some horrific photographs about cannibalism.

Robert Conquest was a friend of Kingsley Amis and often visited the Amis' family at home. Koba the Dread. Laughter and the twenty million is inspired by the conversations of his father with Conquest, probably while the latter was writing or investigating his books on the same topic, and overheard by the young Martin. ( )
  edwinbcn | Nov 13, 2012 |
At the time I read this book, I did not yet realise that it is mainly a report of a literary journey into the gulag. Although Amis complemented it with his sarcasm, outrage and loose cross-referring, this book is for a large part a recap of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and other sources like Shalamov's superb Kolyma Tales. Something like a highly subjective syllabus: informative yet second-hand. What it adds to the existing literature is an essayistic dimension characteristic of Amis: a plaint against his fathers both biological and literary, as well as an interesting question the historians fail to ask: how can the Soviet "twenty million" be ridiculous to us Westerners, when the familiar "six million" is anything but? Hence the subtitle "Laughter and the Twenty Million". ( )
  nickelvd | May 11, 2009 |
Martin Amis' new book does three things:
Firstly, it concisely and interestingly catalogues the evils of Stalin's communist regime (and to an extent Lenin's and what might have been in Trotsky's). An excellent service for those of us, like me, who don't fancy slogging through Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, vols. I, II and III, Robert Conquest's several books on Russia, and the other numerous sources which Amis cites, frequently at some length. It is solely an overview, though: Amis contributes not a single new fact or assertion to the field of writing which is already out there. Occasionally he does stoop to administer a swift, unnecessary kick to Stalin's corpse in the form of some rather childish name-calling.

Secondly, on the strength of the first, it makes the very valid point (which, though, has been made elsewhere) that the western intelligentsia (and especially, quelle surprise, the western liberal intelligentsia) is utterly hypocritical in its analysis and commentary on the "good old" communist regime compared to, say, Hitler's Nazi regime. No-one sees the funny side of the Holocaust, but the soviets, perhaps because of their appealing ideology, have been rather let off for the terrors of Stalin's regime. This point is well worth repeating, and I guess it's enough of a hook to hang a book around, but (especially since it's not an original thought) 'tis but a single swallow and not a summer.

Thirdly, Koba the Dread contains some unordered, pompous, not obviously relevant and frankly bizarre pontifications, an extract of some personal correspondence presenting just Amis' side of an argument with a left-leaning colleague (it's noteworthy that Amis is not sporting enough to include - or even refer to - the colleague's rebuttal) and, most inexplicably of all, an open letter to his own, deceased, father (ending, ludicrously enough, "Your middle child hails you and embraces you").

All of this can only have been included on the presupposition that the author's personal life and views would be found interesting and worthwhile simply on account of who he is, whose son he was (Kingsley's, in case you didn't know) and who he is friends with (Kinglsey's mates, mostly). Then, without any hint of justification, Amis introduces his own sister's recent death into proceedings, despite acknowledging (to his dead father) "Sally has, of course, nothing whatever in common with [the victims of Stalin's regime]."

In short, in this last 32 page section of the book, Martin Amis totally blows his cover. What on earth was he thinking? More to the point, what was his editor thinking? Without this section, Koba runs to 242 pages: perhaps it was necessary to pad out to justify the price of a hard back book? Or is this author such a significant literary figure nowadays that he is beholden to no-one? Perhaps no-one dared stand up to him, for fear of the reprisals...?

In case you were wondering (well, I was), the book's silly title can be explained thus: "Koba" was Stalin's childhood nickname. "... the Dread" is a relatively unused variant on "... the Terrible", as in "Ivan the Terrible". So, Koba the Dread; Josef the Terrible, see?

Martin, how come you didn't call your book "Josef the Terrible"? ( )
  ElectricRay | Sep 30, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amis, Martinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schmitz, WernerÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Famine belongs to the Communist tetrarchy—the other three elements being terror, slavery and, of course, failure, monotonous and incorrigible failure.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786868767, Hardcover)

Koba the Dread is the successor to Martin Amis's celebrated memoir, Experience. It is largely political while remaining personal. It addresses itself to the central lacuna of twentieth-century thought: the indulgence of communism by intellectuals of the West. In between the personal beginning and the personal ending, Amis gives us perhaps the best "short course" ever in Stalin: Koba the Dread, losif the Terrible. The author's father, Kingsley Amis, though later reactionary in tendency, was "a Comintern dogsbody" (as he would later come to put it) from 1941 to 1956. His second-closest, and then closest friend (after the death of the poet Philip Larkin) was Robert Conquest, our leading Sovietologist, whose book of 1968, The Great Terror, was second only to Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in undermining the USSR. Amis's remarkable memoir explores these connections. Stalin said that the death of one person was tragic, the death of a million a mere "statistic." Koba the Dread, during whose course the author absorbs a particular, a familial death, is a rebuttal of Stalin's aphorism.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:29 -0400)

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The author's father, Kingsley Amis, though later reactionary in tendency, was 'a Comintern dogsbody' (as he would come to put it) from 1941 to 1956. His second-closest, and then his closest friend (after the death of the poet Philip Larkin), was Robert Conquest, a leading Sovietologist, whose book of 1968, The Great terror, was second only to Solzhenitisyn's The Gulag Archipelago in undermining the USSR. Amis's remarkable memoir explores these connections. Stalin said that the death of one person was tragic, the death of a million a mere 'statistic'. Koba the dread, during whose course the author absorbs a particular, a familial death, is a rebuttal of Stalin's aphorism.… (more)

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