In many ways this is a very sad book, recounting the lives of several aristocratic families after the Russian Revolution. Also, it is a story of heroism and calm acceptance of what was happening to these people.
After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, there was a concerted effort to demonize and eliminate from society and the country those that the new rulers felt were a danger to themselves. These men, through their propaganda, turned the old nobility into "non-persons and persecuted them almost constantly. Many of these folks escaped from Russia, but a considerably large number remained, for a variety of reasons. These were the people about which this book was written.
As the tale goes along, you read of families being forced into squalid rooms, and being required to perform extremely difficult and demeaning tasks. There was also the "knock in the night", when unsuspecting folks were roused from sleep and bundles off to an unknown fate, for no other reason than their past position in society. Despite this, people remained, and though there was always danger lurking around every corner, they still kept faith in their country, and hoped to ride out the terror into better times.
The Communists used these people as scapegoats for their own regime's failings, and stirred up class warfare between the peasants and the former ruling class. If you think that this tactic is not being used in this modern day, just pick up any newspaper and read. It's difficult to say I "enjoyed" this excellent book, due to its subject, but I found it a fascinating read, despite the plethora of characters, many of whom had the same first name.
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About the reviewer
Frank J. Konopka (frankiethek)
I'm a small town general practice attorney in the hard coal region of Pennsylvania. Books are my passion, andI read as many of them asI can. Being the President of the local library board for over … more
It is a daunting task to elicit sentiments of nostalgia or even regret for the demise of a social class that owed its elite status to birth rather than merit. Smith, a historian and former analyst of Russian affairs for the State Department, succeeds admirably in this wide-ranging and often moving account of the fate of the Russian nobility, from the Bolshevik Revolution to the Stalinist era. His narrative moves seamlessly from a general survey of the nobility to the deeply personal and tragic story of two noble families, the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns. Smith portrays the nobility as a class as being surprisingly diverse, encompassing non-Russians, religious minorities, and relatively impoverished families. He demolishes the facile caricature of the idle, decadent abuser of peasants, since many nobles had admirable records of service to the state in the military and in government bureaucracy. This is a superbly written and emotionally wrenching ode to a class doomed by the flow of history. --Jay Freeman