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Description - Koba the Dread by Martin Amis

Koba the Dread is the successor to Amis's celebrated memoir, Experience. It addresses itself to the central lacuna of twentieth-century thought: the indulgence of communism by Western intellectuals. In between the personal beginning and the personal ending, Amis gives us perhaps the best one hundred pages ever written about Stalin: Koba the Dread, Iosif the Terrible. The author's father, Kingsley Amis, was 'a Comintern dogsbody' (as he would come to put it) from 1941 to 1956. His second-closest, and later in life his closest friend, was Robert Conquest, whose book The Great Terror was second only to Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in undermining the USSR. Amis's remarkable memoir explores these connections. Stalin said that the death of one person was tragic, the death of a million a mere 'statistic'. Koba the Dread, during whose course the author absorbs a particular, a familial death, is a rebuttal of Stalin's aphorism.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099438021
ISBN-10: 009943802X
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 20mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Sep-2003
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions - Koba the Dread by Martin Amis

Book Reviews - Koba the Dread by Martin Amis

UK Kirkus Review » In Koba the Dread Martin Amis impressively continues the autobiographical/biographical engagements of his last big book Experience, but here the fetchingly local and personal come marinaded in the scalding, blistering, scarifying cauldron of bad, mad, inhumane 20th-century history. For here the Amis family story, Martin Amis coming to terms with the death of his father and his sister Sally, meets the story of millions of deaths brought about by Joseph Stalin. The bridge is Kingsley Amis's youthful Communism, Martin's own juvenile anti-fascism, and his still leftist friends, notably the radical journalist Christopher Hitchens, and their shared past as jokers and jesters in the office and pages of the old liberal-leftist New Statesman. What now anguishes Martin Amis is the old question of how so many Western intellectuals, men and women of no ill-disposition, admired and supported, or just condoned (as some still condone) the vastest killing apparatus ever known. The terrifying malignities of the Soviet Union are framed in a certain amount of breast-beating of the How Could You Kingsley? and How Can You Christopher? variety. But the main burden of the book is an extended reiteration and reimagining of the evil works of Communism in the Soviet Sixth of the World. Stalin's works, in particular, of course. But the argument that Stalin perverted a purer Trotsyism and Leninism - the once fashionable case Christopher Hitchens is made to stand for here - is not allowed. Amis's argument is that evil Stalin was the acme and apogee of the revolution. The recycling of facts about terror, gulags, engineered famines, the killings, are indeed overaweing. Amis really makes you feel for the millions of ordinary victims of a vile system and a vile dictator, and even more, perhaps, for all the writers variously exiled, driven mad and to suicide, made subservient to the regime, bumped off in cruel and hideous circumstances. Amis works, as ever, by Amis-izing Stalin and his era. He meets inordinateness and exorbitance head-on with his own famously inordinate prose. Here, if anywhere, you think, overweening cruelty meets some kind of match in the Brobdignagian phrase making that seeks to encompass it: 'glandular sensuality', 'frothing debauchee', 'recreational hands-on torturer', 'fraudulently overweening ignoramus', 'unstoppably giganticized by power', and so on. Occasionally the attempts to outflank Stalin the grimly bad joker with wry and sneering satirical jabs - Stalin winning a war of moustaches with Hitler, for instance - and with a non-stop jeering eye for the tell-tale surreal detail (eight gramophone-record speeches with one whole record for the applause) - seem like boyish ways of not quite scaling the heights of horror. It's surely rather appalling to register one's appal by making Stalin a supplier of modern epic horror because where Virgil sang of 'arms', i.e. weapons, Stalin sang of arms, i.e. limbs chopped off by torturers. Some bad jokes are just too bad. But still, the occasional fallings short don't undo this most honourable attempt to take up writerly arms against an ocean of modern troubles. Here is a humanely eloquent act of remembrance, the most potent kind of elegy - for the millions of Soviet dead, for the purged writers, and yes for Kingsley and Sally Amis as well - that it is possible to imagine being accomplished in just a few hundred compressed, awed and aweing, and thus extremely moving, pages. Valentine Cunningham is Professor of English Literature at Corpus Christi College, Oxford (Kirkus UK)

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Author Biography - Martin Amis

Martin Amis is the author of twelve previous novels, the memoir Experience, two collections of stories and six collections of non-fiction, most recently The Second Plane. He lives in New York.

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