Children, by the millions, scattered across the USSR. Sep 7, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 48 • By SUSANNE KLINGENSTEIN
When 55-year-old Stephen Pasceri walked into a Boston hospital last January and fatally shot Michael Davidson, a 44-year-old heart surgeon who had taken care of Pasceri’s late mother, his futile rage deprived others of a superb physician and changed in an instant the lives of Dr. Davidson’s three young children. They are fortunate to be growing up with their mother in upper-middle-class America, where their trauma will gradually heal.
Eighty years ago, during the Great Purge from 1935 to 1940, millions of fathers were arrested in Joseph Stalin’s empire as “enemies of the people” or “traitors of the motherland.” They were interrogated, tried, and executed, or sent to Siberian gulags. Shortly afterwards their wives would be taken, sentenced to exile or internment in a special camp for wives of traitors to the motherland (known by its acronym AlZhIR) in Akmolinsk in present-day Kazakhstan.
Some 10 million children, from just past the nursing stage to the age of 16, became collateral victims of Stalin’s regime of deliberate terror. When not claimed by relatives, these children entered the horrendous world of state orphanages for warehousing and reeducation. Until Stalin’s death in 1953 they were saddled with the stigma of descent from “enemies of the people.”
We first learned about their fate in Semyon S. Vilensky’s blood-curdling documentary compilation Deti GULAGA, 1918-1956 (2002) and its English-language equivalent, Children of the Gulag, published (together with Cathy A. Frierson) by Yale University Press in its Annals of Communism series. Under the title Silence Was Salvation, Frierson has now published 10 detailed interviews she conducted with children who had managed to survive and build families and careers for themselves in the Soviet Union.
Between 2003 and 2005, five men and five women, then in their early to late seventies, and ranging from a busy physician to a retired metal worker, sat down with Frierson in tiny kitchens or offices to be guided by her questions back to their childhoods in the years 1936-1953. The result is a heart-stopping journey through displacement, deep loneliness, abject poverty, hunger and dirt, through betrayal, icy silence, and all the hell that was Stalin’s regime. We get to see its underbelly from the perspective of its most vulnerable subjects.
One example will stand for all. Inna Aronovna Gaister was born in Moscow in 1925. Her parents were Jews who had joined the Bolsheviks during the civil war that followed the 1917 revolution. As part of the Soviet elite, the family lived in the prestigious Government House in Moscow. But both parents were arrested in 1937, the father executed the day after his 12-minute trial, the mother sentenced to eight years in Akmolinsk, leaving 12-year-old Inna with the responsibility of taking care of her two younger sisters, age 7 and 1.
Their housekeeper fought tooth and nail to keep the girls out of the orphanages, moving with them to a dark hallway until their final eviction, when all of them moved in with the grandparents—who had, meanwhile, collected two other children of arrested parents. From 1938 to 1941, seven adults and six children lived in an apartment of 280 square feet. This was not unusual at the time: The only place to do homework was on a shallow plank in the bathroom, and the kids fought over the space. All excelled in school.
In 1940, Inna’s mother petitioned to receive a visit from a family member; a 24-hour visit was granted. For one year, Inna gave mathematics lessons after school to earn the money for the trip to Akmolinsk, a three-day train ride, third-class. She left in June 1941, and remembers this:
The camp is forty kilometers from Akmolinsk. And there was this kind of mud hut where drivers who drove back and forth stopped. We walked into that little house and they told us that the truck had left that morning. We would have to wait a couple of days. And we eagerly went out into the steppe, to look around, to see what the steppe was . . . after all, we were city people.
Soon they got the news that war had broken out between Germany and the Soviet Union, and the allotted visiting time was cut in half.
So there was this little mud hut, it stood directly in the middle of the field right behind the barbed wire. They brought our mothers there. It was impossible to visit with each other outside, because it was so hot. Kazakhstan! We sat like this shoulder-to-shoulder on the bed. Mama, and next to her sat Yasha with his mama. It was completely difficult for the boys. Because they aren’t very affectionate and here, right in front of everybody, they had to be affectionate with their mama. That’s how we were granted our visit.
How, exactly, did it come to this?Sep 7, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 48 • By JOHN PSAROPOULOS
When James Angelos embarks on a series of trips to report on the Greek debt crisis, he finds that no one is to blame for it. On Zakynthos, for example, three-quarters of blindness disability beneficiaries were exposed as frauds. The island’s ophthalmologist had liberally handed out certificates of blindness, countersigned by the prefect. Angelos approaches the prefect first: “The doctor!” he says. “Only he has responsibility. The doctor puts you down as blind.
The Broadway impresario’s ‘maelstrom of mirth.’Sep 7, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 48 • By WILLIAM H. PRITCHARD
Although I was a frequenter of burlesque in its last days, with its comedians, strippers, and feeble orchestra—the Casino Theater in Boston was a good escape from the toils of graduate English at Harvard—I knew little about its more dignified ancestor, the Ziegfeld Follies. So this account of the man and his work was new territory, even though that territory has been pretty fully covered already by Charles Higham’s (1972) and Ethan Mordden’s (2008) biographies.
Uncollected writings from the Shirley Jackson vault.
Sep 7, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 48 • By DANNY HEITMAN
During a literary career that lasted a quarter of a century, Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) published six novels of the macabre, a collection of short fiction, two books for children, a play, and two comic memoirs of motherhood—enough work to fill a small shelf. But she’s best known for a nine-page short story, “The Lottery,” in which the residents of a quaint Norman Rockwell town are slowly revealed as participants in a ritual act of murder.
A real-life Hollywood mystery remains unsolved.Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By JON L. BREEN
Among classic American murder cases, the 1922 shooting death of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor is one of the most intriguing. Although Lizzie Borden’s axe murders, the assassinations of Kennedy and Lincoln, the Lindbergh kidnapping, and the O. J. Simpson trial continue to inspire retelling and speculation, these cases are all generally regarded as solved. But no one knows for sure who fired the shot that brought down the handsome and well-liked Taylor, an admired and influential figure in the film community, albeit with a shady past.
A Victorian alliance of love and politics. Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By JAMES BOWMAN
On the first page of this enjoyable double biography, Daisy Hay quotes the Mister-half of her titular couple as having said, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.”
Mankind has yet to meet the pigs halfway.
Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By TEMMA EHRENFELD
Ask which domesticated animal is most like humans, and the answer comes quickly: “Dogs!” Like us, dogs live in hierarchical packs, thrive on affection, and are smarter than the average cow, sheep, or goat. Yet all this is also true of the pig.
At the end of life, reading as therapy.Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By THOMAS SWICK
All writers begin as readers, and the majority, the ones worth reading, continue life as more prolific readers than writers—especially, it seems, as they age.
Any message in a valedictory novel? Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By JONATHAN LEAF
In 1967, Milan Kundera was the most famous writer in Czechoslovakia. His novel The Joke, probably his best, had run through a printing of 150,000 copies—in a nation of 15 million. Among the century’s masterworks, The Joke exposed the incessant absurdity and routine vindictiveness inherent in a society commanded by Communist apparatchiks, demonstrating how life under such tyranny turns our best impulses, feelings of love and devotion, toward resentment and enmity. Kundera was a national hero.
Eminent domain as social enforcer.Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By JUSTIN TORRES
It’s a rare constitutional law case that has something for everyone to loathe. But 10 years ago, the Supreme Court sparked a singular moment of bipartisanship when it held, in Kelo v. City of New London, that states can take property from one owner and give it to another to re-develop for a higher, better (read: more lucrative) use. Conservative property rights advocates, liberal civil rights groups, and almost everyone in between denounced the opinion, and states passed dozens of laws rejecting its central holding.
The latest iteration of the fungible Emma. Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By JULIANNE DUDLEY
Perhaps no other Jane Austen novel lends itself so well to modern interpretation as Emma. Considered by many to be Austen’s magnum opus, Emma features a heroine who, though “handsome, clever, and rich,” is judgmental, arrogant, presumptuous, and, at times, callous. She is deeply flawed, and her faults are less forgivable than, say, Elizabeth Bennet’s.
It makes for great mythology.Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By ROBERT NASON
Before the fake news of the Onion, before fake TV newscasters such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, there was Orson Welles and his 1938 dramatization of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. No radio program has ever been examined as thoroughly, in books, film, and television. Coverage leans toward the lurid, describing how Americans were so terrified by “news bulletins” about a Martian invasion that they fled their homes, attempted suicide, or prayed for salvation from extraterrestrial heat rays.
How much is the author and how much is the translator?Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By EDWIN M. YODER JR.
Those who venture upon the heights of Mount Proust are well aware that his fame in the English-speaking world owes much to a Scots translator, C. K. Scott Moncrieff. Proust’s masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, certainly among the half-dozen literary classics of the 20th century, with its syntactic challenges, ruminations, and comic storytelling, would be far less familiar without Moncrieff’s prodigious labors. But who, exactly, was C. K. Scott Moncrieff?
We’ve been coming to terms with modernity for some time.Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By LAWRENCE KLEPP
The extremely fertile period of European intellectual history that runs from about 1749 (Rousseau becomes famous) to 1889 (Nietzsche goes mad just as he’s becoming famous) spawned nearly every idea that has bewitched and bedeviled us since. It also spawned a new social class entirely devoted to coming up with ideas—the thinking class, the theory class, the class consisting of the imperious, all-explaining persons who became known, sometime around the middle of the 19th century, as intellectuals.
Reflections of a Chinese human rights hero in exile. Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By DAVID AIKMAN
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing in May 2012 for a top-level conference with Chinese officials on strategic and economic issues, she got much more than she bargained for. A handicapped Chinese human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, had managed to obtain provisional asylum in the American embassy. Chen, who has been blind since infancy, was well-known to diplomats, journalists, and observers of human rights in China.