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The Spectre of Stalin

In a dramatic new docu-novel, one of the Soviet Union's leading
writers offers a vivid portrait of Stalin and a glimpse at the Great Terror

By John Ebon.
Reported by Antonina W. Bouis, Jean-Claude Bouis
and James 0. Jackson/Moscow

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Why? There is no valid Soviet biography of Josef Stalin, the man who bestrode the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953. Rybakov has woven into his narrative a stunningly realistic portrait of the dictator preparing to embark on what historians call the Great Terror. Between 1934 and 1938, more than 8 million Soviet citizens were arrested and charged with assorted counterrevolutionary crimes. At least half a million were executed.

Children of the Arbat is the first volume of a quasiautobiographical trilogy on which Rybakov has been working for more than 20 years. Its appearance underlines one aspect of General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's policy on glasnost: a willingness to let Soviet writers tell the truth about hitherto hidden aspects of the country's past. There is a certain irony that Rybakov should be the writer to forge this breakthrough. A Ukrainian-born Jew, he is neither a dissident nor a refusenik but a pillar of the literary establishment, a member of the Writers' Union who has won several state awards-including the Stalin Prize in 1951.


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