Arnis on Stalin - a brilliant, controversial study by a great writer.
Martin Amis is the author of nine novels, two collections of stories and five collections of non-fiction. His memoir, Experience, was published by Cape in 2000.
Everyone knows what the Holocaust was, but, Amis points out, there is no name for and comparatively little public awareness of the killing that took place in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1933, when 20 million died under a Bolshevik regime that ruled as if waging war against its own people. Why? The U.S.S.R. was effectively a gigantic prison system that was very good at keeping its grisly secrets. Too, communism had widespread support in the rest of the world, as Amis reminds us. Not quite a memoir, this book sandwiches a lengthy treatise on the horror of life in Leninist and Stalinist Russia between Amis's brief personal takes on his gradually dawning awareness of Soviet atrocities. In his first and final pages, he deals with three generations of dupes who supported Soviet rule: that of H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw; that of novelist Kingsley Amis, the writer's father and member of the Communist Party in the 1940s; and that of leftist contemporaries of Martin Amis himself, notably the writer Christopher Hitchens. Throughout, Amis snipes at Hitchens in particular ( What about the famine?' I once asked him. There wasn't a famine,' he said, smiling slightly and lowering his gaze. There may have been occasional shortages....' ) Alexander Solzhenitsyn tried to tell the West about Stalinism in the '70s, but this grim patriarch had no appeal for the New Left, a generation interested only in revolution as play, Amis says. Most readers won't be interested in the author's private quarrels, but in the bulk of the book he relates passionately a story that needs to be told, the history of a regime that murdered its own people in order to build a better future for them. (July) Forecast: Guaranteed review coverage thanks to Amis's reputation should mean strong sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
With a new Martin Amis what you get is controversy, reviews, profiles and interviews, and somewhere amongst all that the book itself, which inevitably turns out to be well worth reading despite all the noise going on around it. This one was already attracting negative comments in book pages on the strength of the blurb alone. Koba the Dread is another memoir in the style of Experience, this time examining the fascination of communism for intellectuals in the West. Koba is Stalin, who described the death of a million people as a mere statistic. You wouldn't think so to read his reviews, but Amis is a great moralist, which is why his Nazi doctor novel Time's Arrow is still his masterpiece. In Stalin, Amis has discovered another subject worthy of his moral fervour.
This passionate and intensely personal book by novelist Amis (London Fields) evokes a terrible crime, in fact several million crimes. Koba is Joseph Stalin, the 20 million his victims. Interwoven with his impressionistic narrative (which owes much to Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Anglo-American historian Robert Conquest) are details of Amis's family history, along with his sparring with the memory of his late father, Kingsley, and a close friend, the English journalist Christopher Hitchens, both one-time defenders of Soviet rule. Amis cuts to and from these and other personalities, throwing in details of the appalling horrors of Stalinist misrule, in a kaleidoscopic narrative flow. Who was worse: the Little Mustache (Hitler) or the Big Mustache (Stalin)? Why is the latter's evil not as widely acknowledged as the former's? Amis concludes his book with a single family death, contrasting its pathos with, in Stalin's celebrated expression, the "mere statistic" of the death of millions. A personal and polemical reaction to human and historical tragedy on both a small and a large scale, this is not an easy read. While the book reveals nothing new historiographically, it will appeal to admirers of Amis's literary panache. Robert H. Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, ON Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.