Epic in scope, precise in detail, and heart-breaking in its human drama,Former Peopleis the first book to recount the history of the aristocracy caught up in the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of Stalin'sRussia. Filled with chilling tales of looted palaces and burning estates, of desperate flights in the night from marauding peasants and Red Army soldiers, of imprisonment, exile, and execution, it is the story of how a centuries'-old elite, famous for its glittering wealth, its service to the Tsar and Empire, and its promotion of the arts and culture, was dispossessed and destroyed along with the rest of old Russia. YetFormer Peopleis also a story of survival and accommodation, of how many of the tsarist ruling class so-called former people and class enemies overcame the psychological wounds inflicted by the loss of their world and decades of repression as they struggled to find a place for themselves and their families in the new, hostile order of the Soviet Union.
Smith examines the much-neglected "fate of the nobility in the decades following the Russian Revolution," when they were sometimes given the Orwellian title "former people." The author of several books on Russia (The Pearl; Working the Rough Stone), Smith focuses on three generations of two families: the Sheremetsevs of St. Petersburg and the Golitsyns of Moscow. He begins by showing their extravagant wealth before the revolution; in the late 19th century, Count Dmitri Sheremetsev owned 1.9 million acres worked by 300,000 serfs. From the 1917 Bolshevik revolution until Stalin's death in 1953, these families and others suffered, at best, severe persecution and impoverishment; at worst, murder by mobs or the secret police, or a slow death in the gulag. In his sprawling but well-paced narrative, Smith tells many memorable stories, including one of Vladimir Golitsyn's son-in-law, who hid the fact that he'd been sentenced to death from his wife, who'd been allowed a three-day visit. Smith also provides fascinating background information, such as the Bolsheviks' jaundiced view of "decadent" Western culture. Maxim Gorky said the foxtrot, popular among nobles during the 1920s and early '30s, "fostered moral degeneracy and led inexorably to homosexuality." This is an anecdotally rich, highly informative look at decimated, uprooted former upper-class Russians. 16 pages of b&w photos, 3 maps. Agent: Melissa Chinchillo, Fletcher & Co. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Farrar, Straus & Giroux
October 02, 2012
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