An intriguing look at Stalin's regime, marred by pedestrian writing and shallow insights. Richardson, a British journalist, follows Stalin's career through the eyes of the Alliluyev family, whose connection to Stalin spanned the generations—Sergei Alliluyev, father of Stalin's second wife Nadya, ranked among the future dictator's oldest Bolshevik colleagues. Unlike most of his comrades, Sergei died peacefully in his bed; but he went to his grave tormented by the knowledge that the rest of his family, into which he had invited his old friend, had been less fortunate. Nadya herself—an awestruck teenager half Stalin's age when they married—committed suicide as the dictatorship gathered strength; and her brothers, sisters, relatives and friends were subsequently swept up almost without exception into either death or imprisonment. Its protagonists' intimacy both with suffering and with the instigator of their tribulations could have lent this terrible tale great force; Richardson, however, is an inadequate chronicler. The core of her book, inspired by a friendship with Svetlana Stalin, is in personal interviews (through interpreters) and family reminiscences, many of these repetitive or contradictory. Richardson's seemingly superficial knowledge of Soviet history and sketchy research prevent her from setting her anecdotal material into a comprehensible historical relation. Her most irritating trait, though—beyond even the drab journalese of her prose—is the incessant psychological speculation: for all her claims that this family's reminiscences can supply the dimension missing from more standard assessments, she rarely transcends the level of crude Freudianisms or banal claims that Stalin was a ``disempowered child'' who found in the Party a ``political family.'' Despite the material's innate fascination, readers must look elsewhere for a life grounding Stalin's psychological compulsions persuasively in historical context—for instance to Alan Bullock's massive and authoritative 1992 dual biography, Hitler and Stalin.
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