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.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1994

ISBN: 0-312-10493-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1993

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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