Thursday, October 30, 2008

New in Paperback: Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore

I kept coming back to his face. Earnest. Hair swept back rakishly. Eyes straight ahead to a glorious future. This is the face of evil, wreathed still in youthful innocence. It’s difficult to imagine.

And I kept coming back to the question: nature or nurture? Who wouldn’t want to know that? The product of the original dysfunctional family -- a violently alcoholic father, a sexually ambitious mother -- a youthful Josef Stalin goes off to study for the priesthood, a turn of events perhaps not expected from the man who will grow to become one of history’s bloodiest dictators.

In Young Stalin (Vintage) Simon Sebag Montefiore takes us there elegantly. His research is exhaustive, yet seamless. That is, we’re so swept away by the story he tells, that we can’t see it or feel the work it took to get us there. That’s as it should be. Nor is there any doubt that the author knows his way around this material. And know it he does. In its publication year, Young Stalin won the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Political Literature, the Costa Biography Prize and the LA Times Book Prize in Biography.

And if you love this author and just can’t get enough, in November look for Sashenka: A Novel (Simon & Schuster). The byline is different but similar -- Simon Montefiore – as is the time we spend. Sashenka begins in Russia in 1916 in an odd calm before the storm.

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