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.” 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.
"[A] resonant memoir . . . Call it irrationality, call it Russian maximalism, but the letters, papers and confidences Matthews inhabits in Stalin's Children rehabilitate all the generations they touch—including his own—showing how their times shaped their chocies."—The New York Times Book Review"[Matthews's] parents' love for each other, kept alight across the Iron Curtain, makes an extraordinary story. This wonderful memoir brings to life the human victims of a terrifyingly inhuman system."—Anthony Beevor, The Sunday Telegraph (UK)"Few books say so much about Russia then and now, and its effect on those it touches."—The Economist
"At a time when Russia is reasserting itself on the international stage, Stalin's Children should be required reading tor anyone involved with economic, cultural or political relations with that country . . . All in all Mathews' contribution offers a poignant and insightful reading experience, leaving one with a keener sense of the unseen forces that drive present-day Russia."—New York Post "A moving book written with a tender yet unsentimental eye, a deeply intimate account that reveals through the lives of Matthews' own family how the Soviet experience shaped, and destroyed, millions of people."—Douglas Smith, Seattle Times "An epic account . . . brilliantly written."—The Guardian (UK)"A superb chronicle of the 20th-century Soviet Union, seen through the eyes of his parents and grandparents: a Russian."—The Sunday Times (London)"Beautifully written and intensely moving.''—The Daily Telegraph (UK)"One of the most fascinating family memoirs of recent times."—The Literary Review "An extraordinary story . . . there are many moments of almost unbearable poignancy."—The Independent (UK)"Gripping family history . . . This ftfascidnating book is not a footnote to Soviet history: it is Soviet history, one of the millions of private tales of evil and astonishing endurance that make up the awful whole."—The Observer (UK)"Remarkable . . . not only does Owen Matthews write with extraordinary vividness . . . but his technique is more that of a novelist than a journalist—and a master craftsman at that."—The Spectator "A heartbreaking, romantic and utterly compelling piece of reportage that superbly tells the story of four generations of the author's own family across 20th Century Russia, from Tsarist aristocracy to Stalinist elite, from the torture chambers of Stalin's Terror and the honeytraps of 1960s KGB to the coke-snorting orgies of 1990s Moscow Babylon and the battlefields of Chechnya. Here is an astonishing personal history of love, death and betrayal in Russia by a half-Russian writer who really knows the texture of the Motherland."—Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar and Young Stalin"[A] saga of memory, loss and reconnection in a land where millions of people have disappeared for political purposes. An affecting family memoir and a memorable depiction of what Pasternak called Russia’s 'damned capacity for suffering.'"—Kirkus Reviews "[A] fascinating family memoir. Matthews relates this dramatic tale in understated but lovely prose . . . [an] extraordinary tale."—Publishers Weekly"Intense loyalty, painful separation, incredible hardship, and, above all, overriding love are all in Matthews's chronicle of his family's love-hate relationship with an evolving Russia. Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek, the author ably captures both the Soviet Union of the past and the present atmosphere of the new Russia. From his grandfather's execution during the Stalinist purges in the 1930s, through his mother's and aunt's deprivations in World War II, to his own fascination with the changing Russia of the 1990s, Matthews has created a testament to how deeply a country and a people can get into your blood . . . Matthews is a consummate storyteller; that this family history is true makes it all the more enthralling."—Maria C. Bagshaw, Ecolab, St. Paul, Library Journal
Owen Matthews was born in London and spent part of his childhood in America. He studied modern history at Oxford University before beginning his career as a journalist in Bosnia. In 1995 he accepted a job at the Moscow Times, a daily English-language newspaper, and soon thereafter discovered his grandfather’s KGB file. In 1997 he became a correspondent at Newsweek magazine in Moscow, where he covered the second Chechen war. He was one of the first journalists to witness the start of U.S. bombing in the Panshir Valley in Afghanistan after 9/11, and covered the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He is currently Newsweek’s bureau chief in Moscow, where he lives with his wife and two children.