Kirkus Reviews QR Code
MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS by Elena Bonner

MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS

By Elena Bonner

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-58761-8
Publisher: Knopf

 A coming-of-age memoir by the widow of Andrei Sakharov-- tedious in stretches and haphazardly organized, but ultimately fascinating for its intimate view into the turbulent history of Stalinist Russia. Bonner's mother and stepfather were highly placed Party members, and Bonner grew up in privileged circumstances in Leningrad and Moscow. The family was given furnished apartments and dachas, while Bonner and her younger brother were sent to the best schools and favored by teachers. But Bonner suffered from her mother's frequent absences on Party business--and from her coldness and outright verbal abusiveness on the rare occasions when she was around. Raised for all practical purposes by a stiffly correct grandmother and a succession of nannies, who provided most of the love she experienced, Bonner was a sickly loner during most of her early childhood. Adolescence brought some close friends and a first love, and for a while things were happy. But then Stalin's purges began, friends of the family mysteriously disappeared, and finally Bonner's own parents were arrested--her father executed, her mother sent to a camp for the wives of ``Traitors to the Nation,'' where she remained for eight years. During WW II, Bonner became a nurse and, later, a doctor. Brief flash-forwards to Bonner's later life as Sakharov's wife, their exile, and her final reconciliation with her mother frame and punctuate the narrative, the title of which seems chosen at random: Bonner's rambling memoir gives many other subjects equal weight. A more striking theme here is the staggering number of losses Bonner and her compatriots endured, both at Stalin's hands and in the war that claimed 20 million Russian lives. And the greatest loss of all, perhaps, was of her own childhood idealism about the Party. Not a literary success, but worthwhile for its historical value. (Sixteen pages of photographs--not seen.)