Rating: 2.5 Stars ★★☆☆☆
On 17 May 1872, a handsome young cobbler, the very model of a chivalrous Georgian man, Vissarion ‘Beso’ Djugashvili, aged twenty-two, married Ekaterina ‘Keke’ Geladze, seventeen, an attractive freckled girl with auburn hair, at the Uspensky Church in the small Georgian town of Gori.
What makes a Stalin? Was he a Tsarist agent or Lenin’s bandit? Was he to blame for his wife’s death? When did the killing start?
Based on revelatory research, here is the thrilling story of how a charismatic cobbler’s son became a student priest, romantic poet, prolific lover, gangster mastermind and murderous revolutionary. Culminating in the 1917 revolution, Simon Sebag Montefiore’s bestselling biography radically alters our understanding of the gifted politician and fanatical Marxist who shaped the Soviet empire in his own brutal image. This is the story of how Stalin became Stalin.
Everyone knows about how Stalin ruled the Soviet Union. Everyone knows he was paranoid, held an iron grip on his power and was ruthless in unleashing the Terror.
How he became that man, however, is a different story that most know little about and it’s exactly what this book is about.
The lame, pockmarked, web-toed boy, humiliatingly beaten and deserted by his father, adored but beaten some more by his single mother, haunted by bastardy, surviving accident and disease, had overcome the odds.
It chronicles his life and how a choirboy from Georgia who wanted to become a priest became a revolutionary and later a member of the Central Committee.
And parts of it are really fascinating. Simon Sebag Montefiore has a gift for descriptions and creating the atmosphere of the time. And Stalin’s life was fascinating. He had a drunk father who more or less abandoned his family but a smart mother who did everything to give her son the best education possible.
He became a choirboy and for a time, wanted to become a priest. But the times smell of revolution and soon Stalin is in the midst of it all.
At 10:30 a.m. on the sultry morning of Wednesday, 26 June 1907, in the seeting central square of Tiflis, a dashing moustachioed cavalry captain in boots and jodhpurs, wielding a big Circassian sabre, performed tricks on horseback, joking with two pretty, well-dressed Georgian girls who twirled gaudy parasols – while fingering Mauser pistols hidden in their dresses.
The time he spend as a brigand was also really interesting. The book starts with an infamous bank robbery Stalin planned and heists like that one were very fascinating to read about.
The problem is that other parts are really, really boring. We repeatedly get passages that go more or less like this: He went into hiding there. He went to that town. He left and went to that town.
Sure, it’s what happened, it was just not really interesting to read about. Same goes for the time he spends in various exiles, which mainly consists of him sitting in some god-forsaken village, reading, having affairs and sometimes starting a little trouble among his fellow exiles.
These parts, unfortunately dragged.
Unlike Trotsky, Stalin did not make his mark in 1917. He put it best himself: “Before the Revolution, our Party led an underground existence – a secret Party. Now circumstances have changed” – and they did not exactly suit him. He flourished in the shadows.
Fascinating look at the man before he was the powerful leader of the Soviet Union, with some sluggish parts in between.