Koba the Dread
Laughter and the Twenty Million
By Martin Amis
(Vintage, Paperback, 9781400032204, 336pp.)
Publication Date: September 9, 2003
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A brilliant weave of personal involvement, vivid biography and political insight, Koba the Dread is the successor to Martin Amis’s award-winning memoir, Experience.
Koba the Dread captures the appeal of one of the most powerful belief systems of the 20th century — one that spread through the world, both captivating it and staining it red. It addresses itself to the central lacuna of 20th-century thought: the indulgence of Communism by the intellectuals of the West. In between the personal beginnings 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, though later reactionary in tendency, was a “Comintern dogsbody” (as he would come to put it) from 1941 to 1956. His second-closest, and then his closest friend (after the death of the poet Philip Larkin), was Robert Conquest, our leading Sovietologist whose book of 1968, The Great Terror, was second only to Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago in undermining the USSR. The present 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.
“Koba the Dread is filled with passion and intelligence, and with prose that gleams and startles. . . .This fierce little book. . . [has the] power to surprise, and ultimately to provoke, enrage and illuminate.” –San Jose Mercury News
“Koba the Dread is heartfelt. . . . Amis does not shrink from difficult questions about possible moral distinctions between Lenin and Stalin, Stalin and Hitler.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Riveting. . . .Martin Amis has a noble purpose in writing Koba the Dread. He wants to call attention to just what an insanely cruel monster Josef Stalin was.” –Seattle Times
“Martin Amis is our inimitable prose master, a constructor of towering English sentences, and his life…is genuinely worth writing about.” –Esquire