Book Review of The Forsaken

PictureTwenty-eight chapters. Three hundred and sixty four pages. Seven hundred bibliography entries. One thousand one hundred and nineteen footnotes.

These numbers are significant. They are the result of hard work. They are proof of scholarship. Above all, they are evidence of atrocity. Of brutality, despotism, torture, and mass murder the likes of which the world had never known until the twentieth century and its ghastly embrace of Marxism.
Nine thousand. Forty thousand. One hundred and fifty thousand. Two hundred thousand. Three hundred thousand. These are the estimated body counts in just a few of the hundreds of mass graves dug by Lenin, Stalin, and their equally soulless henchmen. Millions of innocent human beings suffered and died miserably, of starvation, exposure, torture and execution, beneath the bloody iron fist of a movement that pretended to “liberate” but instead vigorously fostered widespread brutality, slavery and death behind an iron curtain of lies and deceit.

Among the millions that lost their freedom and lives were thousands of naive depression-era Americans that emigrated to the Soviet Union, wide-eyed and euphoric, believing in promises that on the surface were too good to be true, and beneath the facade were too horrific to be imagined. How quickly their anticipated paradise turned into a prison from which the only escape for most was death.

 The full title of the book is “The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia”. The American tragedy Tim Tzouliadis documents was much more than the loss of American lives. The American tragedy was also the travesty of the U.S. government and some private U.S. citizens aiding, abetting and enabling Stalin’s regime. Without U.S. expertise, technology, financial aid and diplomatic duplicity, Stalin’s five year plan would have barely made it off the drawing board.

Tzouliadis does a masterful job telling the history of Stalin’s Russia. His pen covers a broad swath of Soviet history, while at the same time delving deep into the personal stories of many who suffered, probing in particular the miserable yet miraculous journeys of two Americans, Victor Herman and Thomas Sgovio. Once I started reading The Forsaken I couldn’t stay away from it. And I think I nearly drove my wife crazy with my frequent bedtime diatribes and explanations of what I had learned.

I purchased The Forsaken in a small department store that was going out of business, one I had never heard of or shopped at before, in a town far from my home. My wife and I saw the clearance sale signs, saw that clothing was the main merchandise, and went in. While she looked for clothing, I found a section of books. The Forsaken caught my eye and my interest, and I bought it along with a few other books.

What a contrast there is between my shopping experience, surrounded by a fine selection of inexpensive, quality clothing, books and other merchandise, and the shopping experience of most depression era Americans here in the United States. But more severe was the contrast between the shopping experience of depression era Americans in the Soviet Union and what they were used to in their homeland. Tzouliadis writes:

One American autoworker in Moscow reported six different types of stores selling items of varying quality to every class group. While others who had been in the Soviet Union much longer were no longer shocked on seeing as many as seventeen different categories of wage and food rations. The mockery of the early American arrivals — “Workers of the world unite, and then divide yourself into seventeen categories!” — was entirely lost on the Bolsheviks.

… Fortunately for the conscience of the Americans, Stalin himself had pronounced that strict equality — once the highest ideal of the Revolution — was now “a piece of petty bourgeois stupidity, worthy of a primitive sect of ascetics, but not of socialists’ society organized on Marxian lines.” (page 26)

Tzouliadis goes on throughout the book to describe the destitute conditions of the Soviets. Not only were the working class citizens destitute of adequate food, clothing and modern conveniences that Americans took for granted, many were also soon destitute of friendship, liberty and a good nights sleep, as they trembled in their beds waiting for false informers to precipitate the arrival of NKVD officers to tear them away from their family and home and send them to a virtual death sentence in the Gulag.

The Forsaken is an eye-opening book. I always knew that Communism was evil. I was already aware of the mass-murder of innocents by Stalin and others. But it wasn’t until I read the Forsaken that I had an inkling of the terrible toll Stalin’s reign of blood and horror had on the lives of millions of individual human beings, people like you and I, endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but brutally denied any such possibility by arrogant, calculating, cold-blooded devils.

One of the major messages that Tzouliadis communicated with his seminal work is summed up nicely near the end of the book:

The defining feature of the history of the Soviet Union, beyond which all else pales into insignificance, was the murder of millions of innocent citizens by the state. The Revolution began a process of imprisonment and killing that continued in virtually every country in which it was attempted. For while culturally distinct, the social experiment always reached a similar conclusion over the fate of those the regime had judged to be its “enemies.” The “Killing Fields” of Cambodia were not a “socialist abherration” of Pol Pot so much as a Stalinist principle applied to one third of the population. The Cambodia of the 1970s was not an anomaly. It was repetition. Even in 2008 the “corrective labor camps” still exist in North Korea and China. And yet the world shuts its eyes and looks away.
And so we are reminded that there is yet another American Tragedy connected with Stalin’s Russia. The tragedy is this: That there are people in the United States of America, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, that still embrace, advocate and agitate for Marxism. People who inexplicably believe that government control and power over the economy and over people’s lives is somehow a good thing. People who revere Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others like them. People who would eventually, as Lenin and Stalin and countless others did, find some way to deaden their consciences and justify the reeducation and murder of countless others in order to realize naive, false-Utopian Marxist schemes.

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