Saturday, May 16, 2009
Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love and War by Owen Matthews
Owen Matthews's Russian grandfather Boris, a senior Communist party member, got on the wrong side of Stalin and was executed in 1937. Boris's wife was imprisoned for 11 years. In this bittersweet family memoir, which was shortlisted for the 2008 Guardian first book award, Matthews tells their story. He also reveals what happened to their daughter, his mother Lyudmila, who was only four when her parents disappeared. A robust, intelligent woman (who sensibly prefers Daniil Kharms to that "incorrigible show-off" Vladimir Nabokov), Lyudmila fell in love with Welshman Mervyn Matthews in Moscow in 1963. When he was suddenly deported they were separated for six years, during which time they exchanged daily letters of love and longing. With hindsight, it was the happiest period in their relationship. Mervyn sacrificed a successful academic career in his battle for Lyudmila's emigration to the west, but when he finally succeeded and they married in 1969, the romance faded. "I thought I would be deliriously happy when I got her out," he told his son, "but I wasn't."