Of the numerous histories devoted to Stalin's reign of terror, there is a remarkable story as yet untold. It begins with the incongruous image of America's oldest pastime - baseball - being played deep behind the Iron Curtain, and ends with the tragic deaths of thousands of Americans caught up in a madman's paranoia.
In The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia documentary film-maker and journalist Tim Tzouliadis unveils in riveting detail and with exquisite research the story of how thousands of Americans, at the height of the Great Depression, were lured to Soviet Russia by the promise of jobs and better lives, only to meet a tragic, and until now forgotten, end.
The book begins with a photograph of a baseball team in Gorky Park; the year is 1934. The young men are in their late teens and early twenties, they hail from working families all across America - Detroit, Boston, New York, San Francisco. With the hope of building Ford motor cars in the USSR, they left the joblessness and hopelessness of home as political idealists, and very quickly ended up as the victims of one of the very worst periods of mass terror in modern history.
Within four years of when that photo was taken, many of the young men, their wives and children, would be arrested, their passports confiscated, and along with unaccounted numbers of Soviet citizens, imprisoned, tortured, or simply executed. Some would be sent to "corrective labor" camps, starved and worked to death, their bodies buried in the snowy wasteland. Two of the baseball players would survive, and their stories frame the book.
The result of over five years of groundbreaking research in American and Russian archives, The Forsaken gives an unprecedented accounting of the world inside Russia at the time of Stalin's Terror: the glittering obliviousness of the foreign press, including most notably Walter Duranty of The New York Times, as well as that of U.S. Ambassador in Moscow, Joseph Davies; the duplicity of the Soviet government in its dealings with Roosevelt; and the terrible finality of the Gulag system. In the tradition of the finest history chronicling genocide in the 20th-century, The Forsaken offers new understanding of the timeless questions of guilt and innocence that continue to plague us today.
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July 16, 2008
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