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Stalin’s Scribe

Literature, Ambition, and Survival; The Life of Mikhail Sholokhov
Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
Length: 13 hrs and 26 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A masterful and definitive biography of one of the most misunderstood and controversial writers in Russian literature

Mikhail Sholokhov is arguably one of the most contentious recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a young man, Sholokhov’s epic novel, Quiet Don, became an unprecedented overnight success.

Stalin’s Scribe is the first biography of a man who was once one of the Soviet Union’s most prominent political figures. Thanks to the opening of Russia’s archives, Brian Boeck discovers that Sholokhov’s official Soviet biography is actually a tangled web of legends, half-truths, and contradictions. Boeck examines the complex connection between an author and a dictator, revealing how a Stalinist courtier became an ideological acrobat and consummate politician in order to stay in favor and remain relevant after the dictator’s death.

Stalin’s Scribe is remarkable biography that both reinforces and clashes with our understanding of the Soviet system. It reveals a Sholokhov who is bold, uncompromising, and sympathetic - and reconciles him with the vindictive and mean-spirited man described in so many accounts of late Soviet history.

Shockingly, at the height of the terror, which claimed over a million lives, Sholokhov became a member of the most minuscule subset of the Soviet Union’s population - the handful of individuals whom Stalin personally intervened to save.

©2019 Brian J. Boeck (P)2019 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Rich
  • Austin, TX USA
  • 06-17-19

'Quiet Don' was His Talisman

"Literature cannot be judged by courts... ideas can only be combated with ideas, not camps and jails." --Lidiia Chukovskaia

I read 'Scribe' in the hopes of learning more about Quiet Don, Sholokov, and its controversial position in world literature. 'Stalin's Scribe' covers the the controversial position very well, Sholokov pretty well, and Quiet Don (somewhat surprisingly) very little.

I really liked the primer/abridged history on the Soviet Union (I can't imagine a book like this not covering this topic). I really liked learning how Sholokov worked the system, battling conflicts of his love of the Don and his supposed writing career with necessary loyalties to Moscow. Without question his ability to walk this decades-long tightrope would have been hampered (if not impossible) without his Quiet Don talisman.

This book is very political, and needs more details about Sholokov's early life/family life and the history/inspriation of the characters and plots of Quiet Don itself (both plagarism and unique aurthorship is recognized by Boeck) to really present a full picture. 'Scribe' did not grip me as tightly as 'The Zhivago Affair' for these reasons, combined with the fact that protagonists on the run (e.g. Pasternak: tracked by the government, extramarital affair, etc.) simply hold your attention more than the alternative (e.g. Sholokov: protected by the government, struggling alchoholic).

'Scribe' is a challenging, but well-researched read. If you're looking for a entry point into Russian literature, start with Doctor Zhivago/The Zhivago Affair. For those with an already-developed love for Russian lit, 'Scribe' (and for that matter: 'Quiet Don', aka 'And Quiet Flows the Don' + 'The Don Flows Home to the Sea') is certainly worth your time.