Review: The Forsaken – From the Great Depression to the Gulags: Hope and Betrayal in Stalin’s Russia, by Tim Tzouliadis. This is a remarkable book, not least because its central theme is remarkable – Americans in the Gulag. How come Americans (lots of them) were held prisoner for years in the Soviet Union’s notorious slave-labour camps? It seems incredible but it’s true, and Tim Tzouliadis has done a great deal of research to tell us how it all came about and what happened to the people involved.
Anyone travelling around London in the recent past, whether visitors or locals, would have been bombarded by posters containing the word “Budapest” in large letters. An exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts entitled Treasures from Budapest was widely advertised as a major show and drew masses of people to the building on Piccadilly.
Are guidebooks facing extinction? That was the title of an article published recently in the UK’s The Observer. The author was exuberant about the possibilities of discovering unknown locations without any guidebook or map, but rather by means of the internet, and in particular by accessing so-called apps on a mobile phone, which give instant information about the environs of wherever you happen to be. It produced a string of criticisms about the naivety of relying on unknown sources and defending the use of a well-researched, reliable guidebook.
This appears to be a formidable book. The paperback edition weighs over 800 grams, is nearly five centimetres thick and has 602 pages. It’s enough to put you off before you begin. But it shouldn’t! Despite its length and serious context (the years preceding the Second World War, the war itself and the period following), this is a very readable novel, the plot of which carries you through, scene by scene, drama by drama, often in the manner of a thriller.
Take what must be one of the longest trolley-bus rides in the world – from Simferopol to Yalta, a journey of some 90 kilometres – and you first reach the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula at a place called Alushta. From here to Yalta and beyond, a string of Black Sea resorts welcomes thousands of mainly Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking holidaymakers every summer to what is still known as the Russian Riviera, though the peninsula is today part of Ukraine.
The secret speech of this novel’s title refers to the address delivered by Nikita Khrushchev behind closed doors at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956. On the surface that sounds a pretty boring affair but the speech was unexpectedly dramatic and had widespread consequences.