RED FAMINE by Anne Applebaum
Kirkus Star


Stalin's War on Ukraine
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A new history of Stalin’s oppressive regime, which led to the death by starvation of nearly 4 million Ukrainians between 1931 and 1934.

Drawing on considerable published scholarship and new archival sources, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Applebaum (Practice/London School of Economics; Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, 2012, etc.) offers a chilling, dramatic, and well-documented chronicle of a devastating famine. She argues persuasively that the lack of food resulted from a conflation of political, rather than natural, causes: enforced collectivization, confiscation of food, harsh blacklists imposed on farms and villages, trade restrictions, and a “vicious propaganda campaign designed to persuade Ukrainians to watch, unmoved, as their neighbours died of hunger.” Ukraine was especially vulnerable to oppression: “disdain for the very idea of a Ukrainian state had been an integral part of Bolshevik thinking even before the revolution” of 1917; all Russian political parties, Applebaum writes, “shared this contempt” and feared any signs of a Ukrainian national movement. Famine was a scourge in the 1920s, as well; after the outbreak of World War I, a nationalized food distribution system created chaos and shortages. That situation worsened under Stalin’s policy known as “War Communism”: “take control of grain, at gunpoint, and then redistribute it to soldiers, factory workers, party members and others deemed ‘essential’ by the state.” Food was exported, as well, to fund purchases of arms and machinery. Collectivization, which required farmers to give up their land to the Communist state, “destroyed the ethical structure of the countryside as well as the economic order.” When farmers resisted handing over their land and property, collectivization brigades “resorted to outright intimidation and torture.” When farmers refused to hand over grain, they were punished like political dissidents. Stalin’s draconian policies included the elimination of Ukraine’s scholars, writers, and political leaders and the “systematic destruction of Ukrainian culture and memory.” Famine was another form of repression. In her detailed, well-rendered narrative, Applebaum provides a “crucial backstory” for understanding current relations between Russia and Ukraine.

An authoritative history of national strife from a highly knowledgeable guide.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-385-53885-5
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2017


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