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Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Millionby Martin Amis
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly
"Were this the stuff of fiction, it would be pulp horror or the most callous absurdism....[A]bove all, what Amis is trying to do in Koba the Dread is to clear the mental decks, to synthesize what various sources have to tell us about the reality of a major episode of 20th century history and to disdain any attempt to apologize for it or explain it away. That he does not consider himself especially political may be why his tone is so even (though firm), why he's without either the guilt or the fury that ex-believers feel in having allowed themselves to be deceived. Amis is asking if we can finally talk about this as logical, sensible, morally sentient adults." Charles Taylor, Salon.com Salon.com (read the entire Salon review)
"Amis brings to [these themes] a fresh look helped in its particulars by shocking revelations from now-open Soviet archives....Meritorious addition to the bulging shelf of apologia by writers on the noncommunist English left, worth reading by anyone interested in exploring the dark recesses of the recent past." Kirkus Reviews
"Amis is at his best when using his arsenal of literary skills to create a compelling narrative....[This book] should send readers running to better, more scholarly books on this tragic period in history." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"[P]assionate and intensely personal....A personal and polemical reaction to human and historical tragedy on both a small and a large scale, this is not an easy read." Library Journal
"Koba the Dread is heartfelt but is, for Amis, an unshapely piece of work....[H]e seems to have found 'The Twenty Million' beyond the reach of any narrative but that of self-education." Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle
"[O]ne can't help but imagine what Koba the Dread might have been like if it had been written by Martin Amis the novelist instead of Martin Amis the amateur historian and polemicist." Ray Robertson, The Globe
"Writing in the early part of the twentieth century, the American legal realists argued that general principles do not decide concrete cases; that what judges say is less important than what they do; that it is necessary, much of the time, to ask whose interests are served by one or another set of outcomes. By treating legal reasoning as a mere facade, the legal realists overdid it. And the Rehnquist Court is certainly far from lawless. But Starr's charitable and cheerful account, emphasizing the "lawyerly" qualities of the current justices, obscures a disturbing point. Too much of the time, there is an unmistakable connection between the Rehnquist Court's reading of the Constitution and the political commitments of the Court's most conservative members." Cass R. Sunstein, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
In "Koba"--the word itself a childhood nickname of Stalin's--Amis is compelled, through his scathing prose and razor-sharp insight, to reevaluate the eras of Lenin and Stalin and the unbelievably broad scope of human suffering the two men caused.
About the Author
Martin Amis is the best-selling author of several books including London Fields, Money, The Information, Experience, and The War Against Cliche. He lives in London.
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