The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia Paperback – Jun 30 2009
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" The horror that was Stalinist Russia is still incomprehensible to many Americans . . . Reading this book is certain to open their eyes."
-Richard Pipes, The New York Sun
" Gripping and important . . . an extremely impressive book."
-Noel Malcolm, Telegraph (London)
" Tzouliadis's clear, strong narrative discloses the terrible fates which awaited those . . . who wandered into the Soviet sphere. . . . [A] grim, brilliantly told story."
About the Author
Born in Athens, Timotheos Tzouladis was raised in England. A graduate of Oxford, he subsequently pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker and television journalist whose work has appeared on NBC and National Geographic television. He lives in London.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Forsaken" made me think very hard about how the "little people" can fall through the cracks when the Great Powers are playing The Game; it also made me realize how people in the Depression-era United States saw the USSR. Many saw the apparent failure of capitalism contrasted unfavourably with the apparent success of the "Soviet experiment" and emigrated freely to join the new socialist state unaware of what the "dictatorship of the proletariat" truly entailed.
Tim Tzouliadis focuses on two individuals who went voluntarily from the USA to the USSR in the 1930s: Thomas Sgovio and Victor Herman. Sgovio's father was an American communist who went to the Soviet Union to preach the evils of capitalism and Herman's father left Detroit and went to Stalin's Russia to work in, believe it or not, a Ford automotive plant building "Soviet Model A's". There were thousands of other Americans as well as Canadians and Britons who joined them in Russia, victims of Soviet propaganda and the Great Depression.
The book follows these foreigners who had been tricked or forced by the Soviet authorities into giving up their passports as they descend into the hell that was the Gulag. The use of terror as a political weapon has a long history in Russia and both Lenin and then Stalin found it easy to continue this tradition.Read more ›
Tim Tzouliadis, born in Athens and raised in England, is a graduate of Oxford. He pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker and television journalist; his work has appeared on NBC and the National Geographic Channel.
Written in a style sure to completely capture your interest from the first page, first sentence, you'll find it difficult, at best, to put down this riveting recount straight off the pages of history and from deep within the archives of America and Russia.
In the midst of America's deep Depression, many, searching for a better life, read an English translation of "New Russia's Primer: The Story of the Five-Year Plan," and, in the process, made it a bestseller for seven months and one of the highest selling nonfiction titles of the past decade. They not only devoured the book, believing that the grass was greener on the other side, but they implemented their thoughts with actions by immigrating to Russia to better their lives.Read more ›
As a micro-history, Tzouliadis achieves the goal of highlighting the plight of Americans abandoned by their government and left to suffer the horrors of the Soviet gulags. As far as context, Tzouliadis does rely mostly on secondary literature. Although, I found his narrative engaging, stories of people like Thomas Sgovio, Tzouliadis failed to capture the overall historical significance beyond the obvious suffering of select individuals. For example, since the Bolshevik revolution, many Americans (mostly self-identified socialists) have migrated (voluntarily and forced) to the USSR. And as early as 1923, when Emma Goldman published her scathing memoir "My Disillusionment in Russia," the repression and violence of the Bolsheviks has been well-documented, none of which is mentioned by Tzouliadis. Again, as individual stories go, "The Forsaken" explains the desperation of the Americans who sought to help from their government, but he fails to capture the true horror of the gulags in the way Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did in his seminal text "Gulag Archipelago."
For an interesting non-fiction read, "The Forsaken" is a riveting account of hope and betrayal. The writing is easy to follow, and the facts are spot on. However, the book is pretty thin in terms of historical interpretation and significance.
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This book also sheds a good amount of light on the question of why the conditions in Russia were so little known in the 1930s. Basically, once a person was inside Russia, censorship of their communication was full and these people had their passports confiscated by the Russian government so it was almost impossible to leave. The Russian government claimed that these American citizens had renounced their citizenships, resulting in the fact that the American state department was not able or very willing to help these poor people.
In addition it appears that the treaties with Russia establishing diplomatic relations were not thoroughly drafted with safeguards for the protection of American citizens in Russia. The Soviets exploited these loopholes extensively.
Mr Tzouliadis sketches in a number of missing pieces in the dynamics here. The Russian foreign ministry was deathly afraid of the NKVD, and so inquiries to the Russian foreign ministry were fruitless. The problem of helping these people could only have been addressed by the highest level of interaction meaning FDR to Stalin. However, unfortuanately one of FDR's key sources was Walter Duranty, one of the most famous newspaper reporters of his time and unfortuantely it appears that Mr Duranty was a very serious apoligist for Stalin at the very least, and quite possibly was an agent of the NKVD as some defectors have alleged. (the existence of these defectors was unknown to me) Hence, several of FDR's sources with respect the the reality inside the Soviet union were compromised. It also appears that bureaucratic lethargy played a role.
Mr Tzouliadis also sheds much light on the question of MIA's possibly being left behind in Asia. From reading this account it becomes pretty clear that American prisoners of war from World war two and Korea have been spirited into the Gulags. The reasons why this was desirable are not clear and Mr Tzouliadis does not engage in any wild speculation. It also becomes fairly clear that the Americans were far from alone in being pulled into the camps, it appears that many nationalities were present in the camps. It also appears that some other nations were perhaps more diligent in pursuing the release of their citizens.
In summary this is a sad tale, but one which fills in some important gaps in the overall story of the camps. It also clarifies why the reality of what was going on inside Russia in the 1930s was simply not known widely and unfortuantely this did lead to a good number of American emigres suffering horrendously and being trapped inside the abyss. I found some of the discussion of the state department behavior and Mr Duranty's writings and influence very interesting. The fact that nobody could get back out of Russia and that several of the most important information channels were tainted goes a long way to explaining why a better understanding of the realities of the Soviet Union under Stalin took so long to come to pass.
This is an excellent and very impressive book and it deserves a wide readership.
This book is a primer on the brutality of the Communist regime. For those unfamiliar with this history, it is an introduction. For those who have read Anne Applebaum, Robert Conquest, Vassily Grossman, John Haynes, Harvey Klehr, Elinor Lipper, the Medvedevs (Roy and Zhores), Richard Pipes, Edward Radzinsky, Varlam Shalamov, Vitaly Shentalinsky, Dmitri Volkogonov, and, of course, Alexander Solzhenitysn, the history is not new. But, the story of Americans who once played baseball in Gorky Park only to end up executed by the gun or hard labor in Siberia is news to most.
Particularly of interest is the author's revelation of the betrayal of their fellow-citizens by government officials at the very top of the U.S. government. While the identities of the likes of Harry Hopkins, Alger Hiss, Dexter White, Paul Robeson, Joseph Davies and others is well-known to those familiar with the history of the era, Tzouliadis provides new insights by relying on more-recently divulged information to establish the extent of the betrayal of traditional American moral virtues.
The bones of the victims of Soviet repression cry out for acknowledgement of their torture and degradation, as well as condemnation and judgment of their persecutors. The victims of Communist deceit, it must be recognized, are us all. It is time for the full story to be told.
In addition to his simply telling this story, Tzouliadis offers a moral tale that is supremely relevant today: those with utopian ideals and a fractured understanding of human nature cannot be trusted to lead a nation.
Read this book; its style makes it an easy encounter; its disclosures make it essential reading for those who would be intelligently informed.
Seth J. Frantzman
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