Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

My current read: Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews. You can read my first post about this book here, and my second post here.

Synopsis from publisher:

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." Excited 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.

My thoughts:

I hate to say this, but the end of this book really lost me. I felt like it lost most of the momentum it had built up until this point. It was interesting to read about Mila and Mervyn meeting, and their whirlwind romance was awfully sweet, but the majority of this section dealt with the politics of getting the two of them together, and that just wasn't that interesting to me.

I realize it's importance to the structure of the story, but I'm not sure the author needed to include so much Russian statesmanship for the readers to wade through. I think part of the reason I felt so disappointed in this part of the book was that I was finally expecting to get to the love story - it's what I'd been waiting for this whole time! And I just didn't think I got as much of that as I'd hoped.

I haven't mentioned yet that throughout the entire book, the author also describes his own experiences in Russia, which have offered quite a unique counterpoint to that of his parents. The book describes itself as " family's always passionate, sometimes tragic connection to Russia", and I did find those connections interesting. This family certainly does seem drawn to Russia, despite the horrible experiences they have there. I think it's an interesting perspective on the way that the land can call to a person.

Ultimately, I'd hoped for a bit more from this book. The author's family has quite a story, and I did learn quite a bit about Russian history. I'd say this would be a book to look for at the library, but don't know I'd recommend making the purchase.

Finished: 9/20/09
Source: the publisher
Rating: 6/10

UPDATE!! The Nonfiction Files has a playmate!! The incredibly smart and interesting Jehara is joining me in The Nonfiction Files - I'm so excited to have someone posting along with me each week! Make sure you visit her blog, Jehara, as she's reading an extremely interesting book. And, you know, the more the merrier - if you'd like to join us, we'd love to have you! =)


Violet said...

I'm sorry you didn't like the end but I still want to read this book :)

Zibilee said...

I, too, was a little disappointed that there was so little real romance in the story. I thought it was a little sad that the couple had fought so hard to be together and eventually there seemed to be little to show for it. I enjoyed reading your reactions to this book, it helped me consider some things about the book that I hadn't thought of on my own.

Elizabeth said...

Violet - well, don't let me stop you! You might love it.

Zibilee - I agree - it seemed liked once they were finally together, they didn't really want to be.

jehara said...

i'm sorry you were disappointed by the end.
also wanted to say that i played today, but i posted late. i am going to try to keep up with you on wednesdays.
can't wait to see what you read next. :)

Kristen said...

That's too bad that it didn't live up to expectations. It still sounds pretty interesting despite your caveats. :-)

Anna said...

Sorry you were a bit disappointed. I think it sounds interesting and might read it at some point. I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

DebD said...

It is too bad when a book doesn't live up to its expectations. Especially one that sounds as promising as this. I saw a movie about Stalin's purges (Burnt by the Sun)- very sad.