The Year I Was Peter The Great by Marvin Kalb Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

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. 290 pages; $24.99 (hardcover); reading level adult.

This “professional memoir” by famed NBC/CBS news correspondent Marvin Kalb (who is now in his 80s) looks back on the year 1956 when Kalb (fluent in Russian) was asked to step away from his doctoral work at Harvard and spend a year in Moscow as a State Department translator. It was a key year historically. In February, Khrushchev denounced Stalin (who had died three years earlier) as a “criminal” who had violated communist doctrine. As Kalb and the stunned American intelligence community looked on, Khrushchev removed ubiquitous statues and portraits of his predecessor, freed political prisoners, and dialed back the repression the Soviets had endured for nearly three decades. By November of that same year, however, as the satellite countries of eastern Europe pushed the boundaries of freedom too far, Khrushchev crushed dissent and “readjusted his anti-Stalinist melody” so that “by year’s end [Stalin] was again being eulogized as a Soviet saint.” There are some bright spots here: peeks at a cocky young journalist flexing his muscles and brazenly approaching any Russians willing to talk to him about these extraordinary events; a visit to the village where his mother was born and still remembered. But what could have been a rousing good tale has the feel of a friend rambling about a vacation adventure – one event after another. The most exciting of stories don’t tell themselves; events need to be dramatically ordered and paced, something Kalb doesn’t manage to do here. Interesting content for those willing to trudge through the flat narrative terrain.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

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