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Stalin's Children: Three Generations of…

Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival (2008)

by Owen Matthews

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In Stalin's Children, British journalist Owen Matthews traces his family's deep involvement twentieth-century Russia back several generations. His maternal grandfather was a rising star in pre-Stalin Soviet Russia, and imprisonment and subsequent execution by the KGB. Matthews's mother struggled to survive after her mother was also imprisoned, but eventually met a nice Welsh man and decided to get married...only to wait eight years as Matthews's father was barred repeatedly from entering Russia.

Matthews ties in his own experience as a young man in post-Cold War Russia. The book doesn't have a really tight structure, but it works wonderfully. It's captivating, and is a love letter of sorts to the author's parents, and the country and people who are inextricably linked to his family's history. ( )
  wordsampersand | Jan 24, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found the historical aspects of the book to be fascinating, but it is not the fastest paced book I have ever read. Interesting, but took awhile to plow through. ( )
  yankeesfan1 | Nov 14, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Stalin's Children is a memoir that follows the author's family from his maternal grandparents caught up in Stalin's purges, to his English father's efforts to reunite with his mother during the height of the Cold War, to his own experiences living in Moscow as a journalist during the fall of the Soviets and the subsequent Chechen war. Through their stories, mainly the lives of his mother and father, their courtship and bureaucratic struggles to be together, Matthews shows how the global politics of WWII and the Cold War effected the personal lives of common people living in Russia.

I found the story of his parents to be compelling and heart-wrenching, even though I knew generally how it would end (the author was born, after all), and the story of his grandparents and early life his mother and aunt under Stalin to be equally interesting, but the interjections of the author's own life and experiences in Moscow were too disjointed and random to be interesting. I believe the intention was to draw parallels between his experiences in Moscow in the 90's with that of his parents, but they lacked the narrative quality of the rest of the arc and I found them to be distracting. However, these stories amount to less than ten percent of the book, so they do not detract too much from the rest of the book.

This is not a book that will teach you about the global politics and high level machinations of the Soviet system through the twentieth century, but if one is already familiar with the geopolitics of the time, it will give you insight into how those politics effected the personal lives of the people living in Moscow during that time. All in all a very compelling read. ( )
  craigim | Aug 10, 2010 |
Owen Matthews's book is a history of Russia from the 1930s on, as shown through three generations of his family. The title, I think, is somewhat misleading. His grandfather, a loyal-Party worker was swept up in Stalin's purges, never to be seen again. His story and that of his wife and two daughters was fascinating reading. But when the story moved forward to daughter Mila's romance with Mervyn Matthews (Owen's parents), I found their story of fighting bureaucracy in the 1960s much less interesting. The third generation, represented by Owen Matthews, himself, in Russia in the 1990s, struck me as even less interesting. I've decided to read further about Stalin and Russia's role in World War II, topics that, based on this book, I think will be of much more interest to me. "Stalin's Children" has a good selection of photos of many of the people involved. ( )
  y2pk | Jul 18, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"Stalin's Children" is an incredible account encompassing three generations. I didn't really know too much about the time or place, but I was utterly fascinated. Owen Matthews is a wonderful storyteller.
  Judsia | Jul 12, 2010 |
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Tre generasjoner i krig og kjærlighet 1900-tallet er historie, og det blir produsert mange bøker som tar utgangspunkt i det 20. århundret. Ei av disse er "Barn av Stalin". Owen Matthews er født på begynnelsen av 1970-tallet, men rakk å utrette mye før vi gikk over i et nytt århundre. Han har jobbet som journalist og er i dag leder for magasinet Newsweeks kontor i Moskva. I boka "Barn av Stalin" presenterer han 1900-tallets Sovjetunionen, den kalde krigen og de elleville 1990-årene i Moskva ved å fortelle historiene om sine besteforeldre, foreldre og om sitt eget liv.

added by annek49 | editNRK, Ole Jan Larsen (Feb 5, 2009)
Call it irrationality, call it Russian maximalism, but the letters, papers and confidences Matthews inhabits in “Stalin’s Children” rehabilitate all the generations they touch — including his own — showing how their times shaped their choices.
Owen Matthews has an extraordinary story to tell, spanning three generations of his own family, all caught up with the cataclysmic events of Russia in the 20th century.

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Owen Matthewsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Moody, PaulineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Op een kastplank in een kelder in het voormalige hoofdkwartier van de KGB in Tsjernigov, in het gebied van de zwarte aarde in het hart van de Oekraïne, ligt een dik dossier in een map van verbrokkelend bruin karton.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802717144, Hardcover)

A transcendent history/memoir of one family’s always passionate, sometimes tragic connection to Russia.

On a midsummer day in 1937, a black car pulled up to a house in Chernigov, in the heart of the Ukraine. Boris Bibikov—Owen Matthews’s grandfather—kissed his wife and two young daughters good-bye and disappeared inside the car. His family never saw him again. His wife would soon vanish as well, leaving Lyudmila and Lenina alone to drift across the vast Russian landscape during World War II. Separated as the Germans advanced in 1941, they were miraculously reunited against all odds at the war’s end.

Some twenty-five years later, in the early 1960s, Mervyn Matthews—Owen’s father—followed a lifelong passion for Russia and moved to Moscow to work for the British embassy. He fell in and out with the KGB, and despite having fallen in love with Lyudmila, he was summarily deported. For the next six years, Mervyn worked day and night to get Lyudmila out of Russia, and when he finally succeeded, they married.

Decades on from these events, Owen Matthews—then a young journalist himself in Russia—came upon his grandfather’s KGB file recording his “progress from life to death at the hands of Stalin’s secret police.” Stimulated by its revelations, he has pieced together the tangled and dramatic threads of his family’s past and present, making sense of the magnetic pull that has drawn him back to his mother’s homeland. Stalins Children is an indelible portrait of Russia over seven decades and an unforgettable memoir about how we struggle to define ourselves in opposition to our ancestry only to find ourselves aligning with it.

“I came to Russia to get away from my parents,” writes Matthews. “Instead I found them there, though for a long time I didn’t know it or refused to see it. This is a story about Russia and my family, about a place which made us and freed us and inspired us and very nearly broke us. And it’s ultimately a story about escape, about how we all escaped from Russia, even though all of us—even my father, a Welshman, who has no Russian blood, even me, who grew up in England—still carry something of Russia inside ourselves, infecting our blood like a fever.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:10 -0400)

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Traces the author's investigation into his own family history, during which he discovered how his grandparents were arrested and executed by the KGB, his mother and aunt were separated and later reunited, and his parents were deported from Russia.

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