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Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine

Anne Applebaum has made a career out of expertly documenting the crimes of the former Soviet Union in books such as Iron Curtain and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag. In Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, she turns her attention to the Holodomor--a term derived from the Ukrainian words for "hunger" and "extermination"--the 1932-1933 famine that resulted in the deaths of more than 3.9 million Ukrainians. Applebaum aims to put to bed any remaining controversy over how to think about the famine: "It was a political famine, created for the express purpose of weakening peasant resistance, and thus national identity. And in this, it succeeded."

Applebaum traces the Holodomor's roots back to imperial Russia's paternalistic relationship to Ukraine, which Russians sometimes referred to as "southern Russia" or "little Russia." That sense of ownership persisted through the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and combined with a sense of threat after Ukraine became the site of bloody civil war and peasant uprisings. Applebaum sets out to prove that the Holodomor was an artificial famine produced by brutal Soviet social engineering policies alongside ceaseless repression and requisitions.

She is thorough in her recording of the horror of the famine years, but not dispassionate. She never loses sight of the human costs, or shrinks from condemning the grotesque immorality of decisions made at the very top of the Soviet hierarchy. Applebaum is also not blind to the continuing threats to Ukraine's national sovereignty. Red Famine is both a terrible reminder and a warning. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.