Reading List: Private lives in the Cold War

The World Today
1 minute READ

Red Love Maxim Leo, Pushkin press, £8.99
A European Book Prize winning memoir of a family in the German Democratic Republic, and how the country shaped relationships and fortunes. Leo describes an East Germany where the state was not just in the family apartment but locked within the minds and aspirations of all its citizens.

Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters Kate Brown, Oxford University Press, £17.31
To hold their own in the nuclear arms race, two secretive citadels, the Richland community in eastern Washington State and Ozersk, in the southern Urals, were dedicated to producing as much plutonium as possible to fuel the Cold War. During their multi-decade existence it is estimated that they each released four times the amount of plutonium dispersed by the accident at the Chernobyl in 1986.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain Peter Sís, Farrar Straus Giroux, £11.69
This memoir of Sís’s life under communist rule in Czechoslovakia acknowledges, as the author writes, ‘how easy it is to brainwash a child’. The story unfolds in a word-and-picture montage consisting of a spare, fable-like narrative, introductory and closing notes, a timeline, diary excerpts, family photos and a sequence of pen-line drawings.

Thirteen Days, A memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis Robert Kennedy (out of print)
These diaries were published after the 1968 assassination of the author, younger brother of JFK and his attorney-general. Later books are stronger on detail and context, but this stands out for its eye-witness portrayal of the Kennedys facing down the bellicose generals in the Pentagon and luring Khrushchev to a deal. Subjective it may be, but the reader will come away feeling that they don’t make politicians like that anymore.

The Lives of Others Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Puskin Press £8.99
A best foreign language Oscar-winning film in 2006, now published as a screenplay. In 1984 East Germany, Stasi officer Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman. The screenplay reopens our eyes to the cruelties that were carried out daily in the name of state socialism, with the Stasi’s tentacular network of informers.

Yuri’s Day: The Road to the Stars Andrew King, Piers Bizony, Peter Hodkinson, Spaced Design Ltd £14.99
A graphic novel, Yuri’s Day is an account of the early part of the space race from the Soviet perspective. From rocket scientist Sergei Korolev being hauled off to a prison camp during Stalin’s purges to Yuri Gagarin’s tragic death in a plane accident, this covers the cosmonaut’s story in stark illustrations.