Summary and book reviews of Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews

Stalin's Children

Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival

by Owen Matthews

Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews X
Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2009, 320 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

An indelible portrait of Russia over seven decades and an unforgettable memoir about how we struggle to define ourselves in opposition to our ancestry only to find ourselves aligning with it.

On a midsummer day in 1937, a black car pulled up to a house in Chernigov, in the heart of the Ukraine. Boris Bibikov - Owen Matthews's grandfather - kissed his wife and two young daughters good-bye and disappeared inside the car. His family never saw him again. His wife would soon vanish as well, leaving Lyudmila and Lenina alone to drift across the vast Russian landscape during World War II . Separated as the Germans advanced in 1941, they were miraculously reunited against all odds at the war's end.

Some twenty-five years later, in the early 1960s, Mervyn Matthews - Owen's father - followed a lifelong passion for Russia and moved to Moscow to work for the British embassy. He fell in and out with the KGB, and despite having fallen in love with Lyudmila, he was summarily deported. For the next six years, Mervyn worked day and night to get Lyudmila out of Russia, and when he finally succeeded, they married.

Decades on from these events, Owen Matthews - then a young journalist himself in Russia - came upon his grandfather's KGB file recording his "progress from life to death at the hands of Stalin's secret police." Excited by its revelations, he has pieced together the tangled and dramatic threads of his family's past and present, making sense of the magnetic pull that has drawn him back to his mother's homeland. Stalin's Children is an indelible portrait of Russia over seven decades and an unforgettable memoir about how we struggle to define ourselves in opposition to our ancestry only to find ourselves aligning with it.

On a shelf in a cellar in the former KGB headquarters in Chernigov, in the black earth country in the heart of the Ukraine, lies a thick file with a crumbling brown cardboard cover. It contains about three pounds of paper, the sheets carefully numbered and bound. Its subject is my mother's father, Boris Lvovich Bibikov, whose name is entered on the cover in curiously elaborate, copperplate script. The file records my grandfather's progress from life to death at the hands of Stalin's secret police as the summer of 1937 turned to autumn and the great Purge of the Communist Party swept away a generation of old Bolsheviks.

I saw the file in a dingy office in the old secret police headquarters in Kiev fifty-eight years after his death. It sat heavily in my lap, eerily malignant, a swollen tumor of paper. Typed on flimsy forms or handwritten on scrap paper in archaic script, the file existed on that peculiarly Russian border between banal bureaucracy...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
These discussion questions are designed to enhance your group's conversation about Stalin's Children, a riveting family history of romance, politics, and extreme hardship in Russia, from Stalin's Soviet Union to today's Moscow.


About this book
Owen Matthews made a wonderful discovery in his parents' attic: a collection of their love letters from the 1960s, during a six-year separation between this reserved Englishman, Mervyn Matthews, and his lively Russian fiancée, Mila Bibikova. Matthews barely recognized his parents in these passionate letters: How did they meet, how did their love grow so strong, and how did it wither when they reunited?

Mila lived through the darkest period in Russian history. Her father ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The quote featured on the jacket regarding Matthews' inspiration for Stalin's Children is extremely appropriate and neatly summarizes the book's intent. Matthews succeeds admirably in his goal of describing his family's journey from Russia to England and back again, in the process crafting a fascinating history that reads more like a novel than a work of non-fiction...continued

Full Review (549 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

The Guardian
Some of Matthews's most vivid pages evoke the children's inconceivably brutal experience during the war, though he is brilliant, too, on what it was like to be one of Stalin's children.

The Times
[A] superb chronicle of the 20th-century Soviet Union, seen through the eyes of his parents and grandparents: a Russian Wild Swans.

The Spectator
Reconstruction of one’s parents’ love story is a rare enough undertaking; success to this extent puts Owen Matthews’s family biography into a special category ..... a remarkable book.

Publishers Weekly
Matthews...relates this dramatic tale in understated but lovely prose.

Kirkus Reviews
Lacks the soul-fire of a Doctor Zhivago, but this is a memorable depiction of what Pasternak called Russia's "damned capacity for suffering.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Matthews is a consummate storyteller; that this family history is true makes it all the more enthralling.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The History of Russia & The Soviet Union during the first half of the 20th Century

The history of Russia and the Soviet Union during the first half of the 20th century is complex to say the least, characterized by near-constant turmoil. The autocratic reign of the Tsars came to an end in 1917, sparked by economic hardship instigated by Russia's involvement in World War I, rapid urban growth, and the rise of the middle class. Various political parties emerged to vie for leadership in the ensuing vacuum, with the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin ultimately prevailing. Lenin's death in 1924 led to a power struggle which left party leadership in the hands of Joseph Stalin.

Stalin's policy of aggressive industrialization led to workers leaving the farms for employment at the new factories. The...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Owen Matthews

If you liked Stalin's Children, try these:

  • A Gentleman in Moscow jacket

    A Gentleman in Moscow

    by Amor Towles

    Published 2019

    About this book

    More by this author

    From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility - a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.

  • Caught in the Revolution jacket

    Caught in the Revolution

    by Helen Rappaport

    Published 2018

    About this book

    More by this author

    From the bestselling author of The Romanov Sisters, Caught in the Revolution is Helen Rappaport's masterful telling of the outbreak of the Russian Revolution through eye-witness accounts left by foreign nationals who saw the drama unfold.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Code Breaker
    The Code Breaker
    by Walter Isaacson
    What makes humans human? It's a mystery that has inspired philosophers and driven scientific ...
  • Book Jacket: Genesis
    Genesis
    by Guido Tonelli
    Popular science books represent an important niche in non-fiction. They build a bridge between ...
  • Book Jacket: Buses Are a Comin'
    Buses Are a Comin'
    by Charles Person, Richard Rooker
    Charles Person was just 18 years old in 1961 when he became the youngest of the first wave of '...
  • Book Jacket: Firekeeper's Daughter
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Angeline Boulley's young adult novel Firekeeper's Daughter follows 18-year-old Daunis — ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Girl in His Shadow
by Audrey Blake
The story of one woman who believed in scientific medicine before the world believed in her.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Ariadne
    by Jennifer Saint

    A mesmerizing debut novel about Ariadne, Princess of Crete for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

  • Book Jacket

    A Theater for Dreamers
    by Polly Samson

    A spellbinding tour-de-force about the beauty between naïveté and cruelty, artist and muse.

Who Said...

The longest journey of any person is the journey inward

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S I T closet

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.