The Year I Was Peter the Great: 1956—Khrushchev, Stalin’s Ghost, and a Young American in Russia

In This Review

The Year I Was Peter the Great: 1956—Khrushchev, Stalin’s Ghost, and a Young American in Russia
By Marvin Kalb
Brookings Institution Press, 2017
304 pp.
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At the age of 25, Kalb was drafted out of a graduate program at Harvard to serve as a Russian translator and interpreter for the U.S. embassy in Moscow. He arrived in 1956, fresh from the classroom, wide-eyed and inexperienced, just before Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered his “secret speech” denouncing Stalin. After Khrushchev’s thunderbolt, the so-called year of the thaw that followed allowed Kalb to travel to many parts of the country. His account of his stray meetings and impromptu friendships in Central Asia, Ukraine, and ancient Russian cities provides a vivid, sometimes moving portrait of Soviet society in that jarring year. Most affecting is his tale of the old man he met by chance in the then rundown Podol district of Kiev. The man remembered Kalb’s grandfather, who took his family to the United States in 1914. Back at a Harvard after his year of service in Moscow ended, Kalb was interrupted from work on his dissertation by a call from Edward R. Murrow: the first step in what would become a distinguished three-decade career as a journalist at CBS and NBC.