Stalin's Children

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 December, 2009, 12:00am

Stalin's Children
by Owen Matthews
Bloomsbury HK$128

Stalin's Children has taken half of Owen Matthews' life to complete. It's worth it. A biography that mixes personal and Soviet history, it delves into the past by recreating what happened to his maternal grandfather, commissar Boris Bibikov, a party stalwart executed by Stalin's secret police in 1937. Matthews sees in KGB files Bibikov's entire life, right up to his 'confession' to being 'an enemy of the people'. By reading other kinds of records - love letters stashed in a chest - he finds out about more immediate family members: his Welsh father, Mervyn Matthews, and his mother, Lyudmila, who was sent with her sister to an orphanage after their father was arrested and their mother despatched to a gulag. Matthews' parents met in 1963 in Moscow when Mervyn was a student. Mervyn kept his promise to marry Lyudmila after he was deported suddenly. The letters Matthews discovers chronicle their six-year campaign to be reunited. Not everything goes as planned, however, once their battle is won. This book moves through the Stalin years, second world war, cold war and the break-up of the Soviet Union, but it is the family saga that moves the narrative with force.