Stalin’s Children

In the Economist: 4207bk1

ONE of Russia’s most popular television shows is “Wait For Me”, a true-life tear-jerker that finds and reunites separated couples and families. Sometimes the stories it tells are run-of-the-mill melodramas that could have happened anywhere. But often they are tragically Russian, combining huge distances, lavish and indiscriminate cruelty and impenetrable bureaucracy: siblings separated 70 years ago when their parents were executed; lovers who lost one another in prison camps.

“Wait For Me” takes its name from the most famous Russian poem from the Soviet Union’s war with Germany. Konstantin Simonov, its author, was part of the first generation to grow up with the Soviet system’s mock classroom trials, playground games of “search and requisition”, and the “cult of struggle” inherited from the civil war. His aristocratic family was wrecked by the revolution; but like many children of undesirables, he disguised his background, transmuting the values he inherited into devout Stalinism.