Tag Archives: Russia

Collection Spotlight—Stalin’s Children

Stalin's Children, by Owen Matthews
Stalin's Children, by Owen Matthews
Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival, by Owen Matthews
Reviewed by Harold Henkel, Undergraduate Services Librarian

Stalin’s Children, published in June 2008, has emerged as one of most critically praised recent books about Russia, gathering favorable reviews in The Economist and Times Literary Supplement among other publications. The book is actually two works: one exceptionally good and the other so manifestly awful that it is hard to believe they come from the same author. The story of his parents and his mother’s Russian family is well written, judicious, and compassionate. In a strange lapse of critical judgment, however, the author, a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, mars what should have been a remarkable first book by continuing the family history with his own adventures in the seamy world of Moscow nightlife that are every bit as banal as his family’s story is extraordinary.

As tedious as Matthews is when writing about himself, he is gripping in telling the story of his mother’s childhood during the Stalin terror and World War II. Matthews here reveals himself to be a gifted journalist with the ability to choose telling details and anecdotes which suggest larger insights into the marks left on Russian society by the Revolution and Stalin years. Even seasoned readers of gulag literature will find the story of Matthews’s grandmother, Martha, harrowing–the wife of a fast-rising party boss in Ukraine, she was arrested with her husband in 1937 (her children were taken first to a prison for juveniles and later to an orphanage). Ten years later, she emerged from the labor camps, driven mad and filled with rage, behaving to her reunited daughters (her husband had been executed within three months of his arrest) “as though she believed that by meting out hatred and extinguishing love and hope in those around her she could revenge herself on the world which had treated her so cruelly.”

Ultimately, Stalin’s Children (an allusion to a Stalin-era slogan, “Thank you, Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood.”) is the story of the author’s parents. His father, Mervyn, a Russian specialist and lecturer at Oxford fell in love with his mother while in an exchange program with Moscow State University in 1963. His mother Lyudmila, a survivor from age four of prison, tuberculosis, orphanages, and war-time starvation, was iron-willed, intellectual, and romantic. When they tried to marry in Moscow, Mervyn was declared persona non grata and expelled from the Soviet Union. What followed was a five year campaign against both Soviet and British bureaucracies to bring Lyudmila to Britain. During this time the, the couple wrote to each other almost every day letters that ache with the pain of separation: “Your letters bring me little pieces of you, of your life, your breath, and your beating heart.” “Every line is the blood of my heart, and there is no limit to how much I can pour out.” When the elder Matthews’ campaign finally succeeded in achieving his fiancé’s emigration, it is perhaps not surprising that married life could not possibly provide the transfiguring power of love felt through imposed separation. Commenting on his parents’ letters, Matthews writes poignantly, “but by the time my parents met again they found there was barely enough love left over. It had all been turned to ink and written over a thousand sheets of paper…” If marriage failed to bring the anticipated bliss, Lyudmila did accept the counsel of her sister’s husband to “love Mervyn; have children.” The marriage survives to this day.

Stalin’s Children is a unique story of a family in Russia from 1917 to 1969, the year of Lyudmila’s emigration. Matthews spent five years researching and writing this relatively short book, and it still could have been improved with more thorough editing and re-writing. Despite its shortcomings, the author has produced a deeply human book by placing his parent’s struggle in the context of the defining events in the history of the Soviet Union.

Are you interested in reviewing a resource in the Library collection? If so, please contact Harold Henkel at harohen@regent.edu.    

The Big Read Festival Kicks Off at the Library

Written by Harold Henkel, Assistant Librarian

Dear Friends & Readers,

The Big Read is here! Our festival offers a program of entertaining and stimulating events that will introduce participants to the richness of Russian culture, and in particular, to the genius of Leo Tolstoy by focusing on his late novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Please stop by the Library for your free copy or contact Harold Henkel at harohen@regent.edu. The Regent University Library invites all interested readers throughout Hampton Roads to take part in our Big Read festival and discover the pleasure of reading great literature with your friends.


  • Essay & Video Contests

    The Library is sponsoring video and essay contests, with separate categories for contestants under and over 18. Top prize for each category is $150. The deadline for all entries is midnight, January 31, 2009. For details, click here for essay and here for video contest rules.


  • War, Love, Repentance: A Festival of Russian Cinema
    Dates: January 16, 23, 30
    Time: 7:00 p.m.
    Location: Library Auditorium
    Regent film faculty Prof. Andrew Quicke and Dr. Dennis Bounds will host a festival of Russian cinema on three Friday evenings. All showings are free and open to the public.
  1. January 16: Dr. Dennis Bounds will host Prisoner of the Mountains (1996)-Sergei Bodrov’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s short story, “A Prisoner of the Caucasus.”
  2. January 23: Prof. Andrew Quicke will host Anna Karenina (1967)-Alexander Zarkhi’s classic film of Tolstoy’s masterpiece.
  3. January 30: Prof. Andrew Quicke will host Ostrov (2006)-Pavel Lungin’s powerful film of guilt, repentance, and holiness set in a Russian monastery in the far north.
  • Faculty Lunch Symposium: Ivan Ilyich’s Problems
    Date: January 27
    Time: 12:00 p.m.
    Location: Library Atrium
    A panel of Regent University faculty will discuss The Death of Ivan Ilyich from the perspective of their disciplines: Dr. Rosemarie Hughes, School of Psychology and Counseling; Dr. Michael Palmer, School of Divinity; Prof. David Wagner, School of Law. Also joining the panel will be Dr. Maria Grise, Department of Russian, Old Dominion University and Fr. James Pavlow, pastor of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach. Lunch will be served. The event is free and open to the public. R.S.V.P. Harold Henkel (harohen@regent.edu) by January 23.


  • Book Discussion in Russian
    Date: February 5
    Time: 6:30 p.m.
    Location: Library 1st Floor Reading Area
    The Library will host a discussion in Russian of The Death of Ivan Ilyich for native Russian speakers, speakers of Russian as a second language, and students of Russian. For more information, contact Harold Henkel at harohen@regent.edu or 757-352-4198.


  • A Taste of Russia
    Date: February 10
    Time: 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
    Location: Regent Ordinary
    Chef Dan Murphy will present two classics of the Russian kitchen, Ukrainian Borsch and Salmon Kulebyaka. The event is open to the public.   


  • Give War and Peace a Chance: How Tolstoy Can Change Your Life
    Date: February 10
    Time: 6:00 p.m.
    Location: Robertson Hall, Moot Courtroom

    Dr. Andrew Kaufman, scholar, author, actor, lecturer at the University of Virginia, and Russian literature expert for Oprah’s Book Club will discuss how Tolstoy’s works confront the essential questions of life: What does it mean to lead a good life? What is necessary for true happiness? Is suffering beneficial? How does one truly live by the teachings in the Gospels? Dr. Kaufman (aka Professor Andy) will explain how Tolstoy’s books can inspire, challenge and change you and why the works of a 19th century Russian aristocrat are the best self-help books on the market. A reception will follow in the Robertson Hall Lobby.


  • Big Read Kick-Off
    On January 9, our festival of Tolstoy and Russian culture kicked off in the Library with remarks from Dean Sara Baron, Dr. Carlos Campo, librarian Harold Henkel, and a dramatic reading by the Library’s systems manager and resident thespian, Mark Zillges. Click here to view the photo gallery from the kickoff.
  • Library Book Club Discussion
    On January 13, the Library Book Club hosted its best-attended meeting to date with Russian refreshments and lively discussion. Click here to view the photo gallery from the book discussion.
    Tolstoy at the Plough by Ilya Repin, 1887
    Tolstoy at the Plough by Ilya Repin, 1887

Don’t seek God in temples. He is close to you. He is within you. Only you should surrender to Him and you will rise above happiness and unhappiness. 

Leo Tolstoy