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15 November 2018

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Stalin's Children

Owen Matthews' enthralling contribution, Stalin's Children, is ostensibly the author's personal journey - excavating his family history (his father married a Russian in the 1960s). But, in the process, he unearths everyday Stalinist reality, showing the very graphic and personal effects of the events and decisions Khlevniuk writes about in Master of the House: Stalin and His Inner Circle - in particular the infamous 1934 "Congress of Victors" and the murder of Kirov. Two things make Matthews' tale truly engaging. First are his narrative leaps back and forth in time, paralleling the Russian experiences of his father and grandfather with his own as a Moscow Times reporter in the 1990s. It brings the stories home and makes the past all the more palpable. And sets your head nodding when he makes passing comments like, "The Wannsee memorandum of 1942 which mapped out the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem is more famous - but the Soviet Communist Party's condemnation of the kulaks to extermination was to prove twice as deadly." Second, is his keen reportorial eye: The investigator appointed to the case was Svetlana Timofeyevna, a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department. She was a confident and matronly woman who sized me up with a shameless, penetrating stare, well used to separating men into wimps and loudmouths. She was one of those portly, invincible, middle-aged Russian women, whose kind lurked like Dobermans in the front office of all Russia's great men; they ruled ticket offices and lorded it over hotel reception desks.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Jan/Feb 2009