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VINE VOICEon 5 June 2010
Antony Beevor, Sandhurst educated former British Army Officer again amazes with this story of upper class Russians surviving/trying to survive the Soviet revolution, Russian Civil war, Stalism in the USSR and Nazism in pre war and war time Germany. Basically the story of Olga Chekova, niece of the famous writer, Chekov and her balancing act to survive and prosper during one of the most fast moving and violent periods of world history. How she stayed out of Uncle Joe's gulags, Hitlers concentration camps and was acclaimed an almost heroine of the Soviet Union makes for fascinating reading.
Mr Beevor's research is painstaking and must take him years to pull his information together into a coherent, at times exiciting but always fascinating story. If you have read any of his other finely researched books such as 'Stalingrad' and 'The Spanish Civil War' then you know what to expect and you will not be dissapointed.
When I was given this as a present, I thought uh, upper class, arrogant Russians struggling to make ends meet during times of strife, be honest my sympathies were always with the workers. However, when I finally did put my nose into it, basically on the strength of Mr Beevor's earlier works I had devoured and enjoyed, I found I could not put it down. A view of life at all levels in early Soviet Russia and Hitler's Germany that one does not readily come across. All this is besides the spying and other things such as being a German Movie Diva.
If you like Beevor's earlier books and want something a tad different then give it a go.
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on 6 July 2015
I can imagine him coming across this complicated & intriguing tale as he was researching for Berlin about the niece of Anton Chekhov. You do wonder if you've seen any of her films! Told in a much lighter tone & faster pace - so he does write in a different style too! We met Gregory Peck in Cap Ferrat one holiday.
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on 20 May 2017
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on 5 January 2013
Yet another book with a title jazzed up to give the impression of being something it is not. The question of whether Olga Chekhova was a Russian spy takes up a miniscule part of the book. My understanding is that a spy is someone who is working for a foreign power attempting to gain intelligence on the designated enemy country. Olga Chekhova was not an agent of the Soviet Union actively working against Nazi Germany. Indeed she was a highly successful film star and except in the most general terms was not going to be in a position to gain desired secrets. She was however clearly an opportunist who was going to do whatever was necessary to survive and prosper and if that meant keeping in touch with and in sympathy with the Soviets then so be it. Beevor simply does not produce the hard evidence to determine accurately what she did, by inference she was involved with Soviet security agencies but to what extent and whether it mattered remains open to question. Case unproven in my view.

The sad thing about all this is that it obscures the heart of the book which is about the experiences of the Chekhov family between Anton Chekhov's death in 1904 and essentially the end of the Second World War. Life was pretty good until the Russian Revolution when circumstances split the family and Olga, her daughter, mother and sister ended up in Germany with the others remaining in Soviet Russia. Their story is a fascinating tale of the experiences of a family living through revolution, famine, hyper-inflation, political turmoil and a world war in two of the grossest tyrannies the world has seen. By some miracle they almost all survived but not without undergoing many trials and tribulations. I found that a far more interesting story than the feeble issue of Olga Chekhova's links to Soviet Intelligence. Confusing though it can be working out and keeping in the mind who is who in the family this is worth reading on a purely human interest level. A shame it was not packaged and sold on that basis.
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VINE VOICEon 29 October 2004
Anthony Beevor's "Mystery of Olga Chekhova" is a fascinating book. Beevor has taken a little known episode in Soviet (and German) history and managed to create a book that reads more like a novel. As I read "Olga" I was constantly reminded of the noir-like novels of Alan Furst, whose tales of Soviet espionage and counter-espionage center on tales of similar acts of espionage taken on by Russian and other East European émigrés in the 1930's and 1940's.
"Olga" is about the life of one "Olga Chekhova and her family. A niece, by marriage, of the great Anton Chekhov, Olga left the Soviet Union under mysterious circumstances to pursue an acting career in Berlin. Olga's family, mostly actors and musicians stayed behind. Olga went on to become a famous film star in Germany and was highly regarded by Hitler, Goering, Goebels, and the rest of the Nazi leadership. She married a Luftwaffe pilot (later killed in action) and performed for the troops during the war. In the meantime, her family continued to thrive in the USSR. This alone was a remarkable and mysterious achievement when one considers the fact that the families of so-called enemies of the state generally suffered far worse. The question addressed by Beevor is simple: Was Olga a Soviet spy and, if so, what did she do and how did she do it?
Beevor traces Olga's life and her relationship with the Chekhov family. His descriptions of Russian and Soviet Theater, particularly his overview of the family's relationship with Stanislavski and the Bohemian and lurid life-style common to the period are particularly interesting. Given the nature of the book and novel-like story line I think it would be inappropriate to reveal much in the way of details. Unlike Beevor's other works, such as Stalingrad, the events and final outcome of the story are not well known and it would be unfair to spoil the story. Needless to say, the story of Olga Chekhova is fascinating.
Last, this book is something of a departure for Beevor. Previously, he has focused on grand events, Stalingrad, the Fall of Berlin, and the Spanish Civil War. Here he covers less familiar and far more intimate ground. Despite the fact that Beevor cannot answer all the questions he raises in "Olga" he carries off this micro-history with aplomb. His writing style is not overly academic and the book is accessible to any reader. Further, Beevor sets out sufficient general background information such that the reader does not need to have a background in Russian or German history in order to make the book enjoyable.
Beevor has done an excellent job and I think "Olga" is well worth reading.
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VINE VOICEon 28 September 2013
This is an account of the colourful life of the niece of the famous author and playwright and his theatre actress wife Olga Knipper-Chekhova . A minor theatre and early film actress before the Russian revolution, she fled to Germany in 1920 at the age of 23. Her career took off there and she became a star of early German cinema in the 1920s and 1930s and was to a degree (though to what degree is open to debate) feted by Hitler and Goebbels. At the same time, though, she was a sleeper agent for the Soviet OGPU/NKVD, recruited through her brother Lev, an ex-White Guardist turned loyal Communist, though she herself was neither a Communist nor a Nazi. During the war she made patriotic films for her adopted homeland, but after the Soviet capture of Berlin she was treated with kid gloves by the occupying forces. Her postwar career in West Germany was rather quieter though she continued to play in films and started a cosmetics company, believed to have been financed by the Soviets. A controversial character, she was often subject to salacious rumours and gossip, but did not help herself by embroidering her past in her own memoirs, in particular claiming to have been a member of the pre-Revolution Moscow Art Theatre and to have personally trained by Stanislavsky. A fascinating life.
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on 15 October 2005
I'm sure there was a mystery behind Olga's success in staying in Germany during the war, despite being a Russian (albeit of German extraction). And somehow her family survived at a time when even to surrender to the Germans was tantamount to a death sentence.
But the author didn't really come up with any answers as to why they all survived. He hints there may have been things going on under the surface, but can't shed any light on them. I finished the book thinking that it had more been a log of their lives rather than any explanation. A little frustrating!
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on 28 March 2015
Requires some perseverance to get into it because, as the author states, Olga came from 'a family of confusing names'. Some familiarity with the historical background (both Russia and Germany c.1914 - 1950s) also helps. The 'mystery' is much wider than that of Olga herself: it involves the survival, and achievements in both Russia and Germany, of her whole extended family through those turbulent, gruesome times. Not surprisingly the author doesn't really come close to providing any firm answers, although there's interesting speculation along the way. There's potentially another book, perhaps several, to be written providing more substantial answers: but it's doubtful whether the source material exists to write them.
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on 13 April 2013
A well written and well researched book - as per usual for the author Antony Beevor. A tale of a family divided in its loyalties by war.
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on 31 March 2014
i haven't had chance to read it yet!! However it is, from cover notes and elsewhere a spy thriller, a mystery, a biog., a romantic tale, and crafted by the hand of Anthony Beevor (whose Stalingrad/Crete i have read ) i should imagine it hardly takes a wrong turn in narrative
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