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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 25 January 2010

"Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar" by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Why anyone would want to be a Politburo member given that most of them spent every day and most nights terrified that the KGB would take them, torture them and murder them and if not them their wives. Whenever they talked to Stalin there was a risk they would say the wrong thing. Amazingly, many of them did dare to disagree and some of those got away with it. But many of them were terrified much of the time. Is power really that alluring?

How on earth they got any work done given that Stalin would invite them night after night to dinners which went on till the early hours in which they all got drunk. But at the same time they were running huge ministries and fiefdoms.

Some times they competed for Stalin's approval beyond decency. His chef de cabinet was so proud when his daughter was chosen to present a bouquet to Stalin on his seventieth birthday, despite that fact that Stalin had murdered the girl's mother, the chef's wife. The little girl, now an old woman, still admires Stalin.
 
This book is a fascinating description of the courtiers of power, those who are willing to debase and humiliate themselves, to lie, cheat and kill, and do anything to stay close to the centre of power. Stalin's court was a gangster mob of brutal thugs who were terrified of him and yet unable to stop themselves looting, stealing, having orgies.
 
It is also an amazing chronicle of the madness of torture and the gullibility of those who believed that there might have been smoke behind fire. One KGB boss, arrested and tortured, confessed to having sex with his son and his daughter, and his KGB boss, and breaking into the British Embassy and having sex with the Ambassador!
 
I hadn't realised that Stalin's secret police used the crude torture method of beating people until their eyes popped out. I thought they were sophisiticated a la Darkness at Noon.
 
As well as all the evil, the book is a tribute to the endurance of people. Men and women who slaved in labour camps for ten years. Soliders who were tortured and then called back during the war to fight alongside their torturers.
 
And survivors. Molotov survived Stalin, Khruschev and Brezhnev, dying after Gorbachov had gained power. Stalin's daughter Svetlana spent some time in sheltered housing in Bristol. Mikoyan, who had carried Lenin's coffin, attended JFK's funeral.
 
But my favourite is Lenin's chef who had previously cooked for Rasputin and later cooked for Stalin. He became Vladimir Putin's grandfather!

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