Donald Rayfield

From Russia with Love

Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love and Betrayal

By

Bloomsbury 285pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

This is one of the most fascinating family memoirs of recent times. Few people could write as Owen Matthews does about his parents’ tormented love life and his maternal grandparents’ horrific fate with such a blend of affection and critical but unobtrusive objectivity, especially when so many of the dramatis personae are still alive. The core of the story was published six years ago by the author’s father, the well-known specialist on Soviet society Mervyn Matthews, in two books, Mervyn’s Lot and Mila and Mervusya. Mervyn’s case attracted the willing attention of the tabloids and the annoyance of the authorities in the 1960s. It was an unusual story at the time – a British postgraduate student on his year at Moscow State University falls in love and attempts to marry and bring out a Soviet bride (or husband) – but it became increasingly common. There were half a dozen prominent cases where the Soviet authorities refused outright to allow either the marriage or the departure of the Soviet partner. Some people, like Mervyn Matthews or Camilla Gray (who married Prokofiev’s son), fought for years against the indifference of both British and Soviet ministers. Others, like Georges Nivat, who fell in love with the enchantress Irina Ivinskaya, daughter of Olga Ivinskaya (‘Lara’), Pasternak’s last love, were so terrified and discouraged that they gave up and sublimated the experience into expertise as Russianists. (Nivat and Ivinskaya were both given a potentially lethal skin infection by the KGB, which is further than the KGB were prepared to go to discourage Mervyn Matthews and Lyudmila Bibikova, the author’s parents.) 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Her favourite design included a body in the shape of a horse, with a steam engine inside ... The passenger would t… ,
    • Sign up to our email newsletter below! Get free articles, highlights from the archive, and chances to win theatre… ,
    • RT : Founded in 1979, is a trusted independent source for reviews of new books across a variety of genres. A… ,
    • RT : Here we are - "Shelf Indulgence" by Ed Potten, a wonderful read, well worth your time: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Like going to a party hoping to get away as quickly as politeness allowed and at 4am finding myself still engrosse… ,
    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,