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Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survivalby Owen Matthews
Synopses & Reviews
A transcendent history/memoir of one familys 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 Matthewss 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 wars end.
Some twenty-five years later, in the early 1960s, Mervyn Matthews—Owens 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 grandfathers KGB file recording his “progress from life to death at the hands of Stalins secret police.” Stimulated by its revelations, he has pieced together the tangled and dramatic threads of his familys past and present, making sense of the magnetic pull that has drawn him back to his mothers 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 didnt 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 its 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.”
"For three generations of Matthews's family, Russia was a place that 'made us and freed us and inspired us and very nearly broke us.' In this fascinating family memoir, Matthews, Newsweek's Moscow bureau chief, recounts that history. His maternal grandfather was executed in Stalin's purges in 1937. His mother, separated from her own mother for 11 years, grew up essentially as an orphan. But even more extraordinary is the tale of Matthews's parents' relationship. His father, Mervyn Matthews, was a British embassy staffer in Moscow turned graduate student who left Russia after the KGB tried to recruit him in 1960. Returning in 1963, he fell in love with a Soviet woman, but when he again refused to do business with the KGB, he was thrown out of the country. For the next several years, he lobbied to reunite with the woman who would become Matthews's mother, finally getting her out of the USSR in 1969. Drawing on KGB files and his parents' hundreds of letters from their years of separation in the 1960s, Matthews (now married to a Russian woman) relates this dramatic tale in understated but lovely prose. B&w illus. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Owen Matthews was born in London and spent part of his childhood in America. He studied modern history at Oxford University before beginning his career as a journalist in Bosnia. In 1995 he accepted a job at the Moscow Times, a daily English-language newspaper, and soon thereafter discovered his grandfathers file. In 1997 he became a correspondent at Newsweek magazine in Moscow, where he covered the second Chechen war. He was one of the first journalists to witness the start of U.S. bombing in the Panshir Valley in Afghanistan after 9/11, and covered the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He is currently Newsweeks bureau chief in Moscow, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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