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How to Write About a Political Childhood

February 19, 2011

Atossa Abrahamian in n+1:

Communist ideologues are not known for their parenting skills. Take Marx, who saw families (especially his own) as obstructions to political ends; Che, a notorious ladies’ man who barely saw his children at all; Mao, with his four wives and ten (or more) kids; or even Stalin, who, before driving Nadezhda Alliluyeva to suicide, impregnated a 13-year-old during his Siberian exile.The family lives of these leaders were overshadowed by their political careers—but what to do with such men when they exist not in the Bolivian jungles or the oilfields of Baku but knee-deep in West Village affectations or entrenched in the monotony of the Socialist Workers Party? What happens to their kids in a time of Montessori schools and helicopter parenting?

Zoe Heller’s latest novel, The Believers, and Said Sayrafiezadeh’s memoir When Skateboards Will be Free provide some answers in their distinctly American accounts of growing up socialist. Like their revolutionary predecessors, the father figures in both books take more interest in their political causes than in the everyday needs of their wives and children. The mothers, also radicals, live in their husbands’ shadows, so the politics end up doing the parenting. Their children consequently grow up with a belief system toward which their country is less than sympathetic; the views they parrot are met with bemusement and disapproval. [More]

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