A transcendent history/memoir of one family’s always passionate, sometimes tragic connection to Russia.
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’ 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 25 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". Stimulated 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.
“I came to Russia to get away from my parents,” writes Matthews. “Instead I found them there, though for a long time I didn’t know it or refused to see it. This is a story about Russia and my family, about a place which made us and freed us and inspired us and very nearly broke us. And it’s ultimately a story about escape, about how we all escaped from Russia, even though all of us - even my father, a Welshman, who has no Russian blood, even me, who grew up in England - still carry something of Russia inside ourselves, infecting our blood like a fever.”
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Russia, tragically bizaar