In This Review

The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia
The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia
By Tim Tzouliadis
Penguin Press, 2008, 448 pp

How odd to learn from this remove that in the first eight months of 1931, a hundred thousand Americans applied to emigrate to the Soviet Union, stirred by Soviet newspaper ads for 6,000 skilled-worker jobs. Even odder is to realize that most of these people and those who followed over the next several years saw the Soviet Union as a land of opportunity and an escape from the misery of Depression America. How many of the engineers, teachers, metalworkers, pipefitters, miners, and the like, once disheartened by the brutal realities of Stalin's Soviet Union, fled home is difficult to tell from the book. But a large number remained trapped, their passports seized, and then slowly they disappeared into the maw of Stalin's killing machine, usually simply because their foreign origins doomed them. The story of the magnitude, savagery, and arbitrariness of the purges has been told umpteen times, but learning the fate of individual Americans devoured in the process gives the story a perverse freshness. Tzouliadis tells it well, but he reserves his special passion for those on the U.S. side who did little to help and much to make the outcome more tragic: the remarkably obtuse U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph Davies, the preening and very prominent correspondent Walter Duranty, and a blindly angry Paul Robeson.