THE LIVING AND THE DEAD by Nina Tumarkin

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 It would seem hard to spoil a book about the impact of the German invasion on the Soviet Union in WW II, but Tumarkin nearly pulls it off. Tumarkin (History/Wellesley, Lenin Lives!, 1983) links a novel treatment of the war with an irrelevant account of the pain caused her by the premature deaths of her father, brother, and sister. The facts are horrifying enough. Before the war, in the last great purge of the 1930s, Stalin executed 50,000 Red Army officers. Stunned by the invasion, with his army in headlong retreat, Stalin turned to Russian patriotic themes. Within two days Pravda was referring to ``the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People,'' linking it to the ``Patriotic War'' against Napoleon. The government opened the churches and allowed an appeal to religious sentiment, but the brief period of greater freedom was soon succeeded by harsh measures. The Soviet press maintained that Stalin, the Communist Party, the Red Army, and the Soviet people, in that order, had won the war. But what is genuinely new in Tumarkin's research is her discovery that the emphasis on the Soviet victory was soon dropped--though she does not really tell us why. By 1947, Victory Day was demoted to a regular working day. The big push in the war cult came only after 1965, after which Victory Day was increasingly glorified. The ``desacralization'' of the war came at more or less the same time as that of the Communist Party. Tumarkin suggests that the loss of the shared memory left many people in the throes of a spiritual crisis--a view that contradicts her judgment that the quarter-century campaign to instill the cult was ``a spectacular failure.'' It is never quite brought together, but Tumarkin does enough to suggest that this theme could provide a significant new insight into the period.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1994
ISBN: 0-465-07159-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1994