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Leonid Eitingon was a KGB killer who dedicated his life to the Soviet regime. He was in China in the early 1920s, in Turkey in the late 1920s, in Spain during the Civil War, and, crucially, in Mexico when Trotsky was assassinated. ‘As long as I live,’ Stalin had said, ‘not a hair of his head shall be touched.’ It did not work out like that.
Max Eitingon was a psychoanalyst, a colleague, friend and protégé of Freud’s. He was rich, secretive and – through his friendship with a famous Russian singer – implicated in the abduction of a white Russian general in Paris in 1937.
Motty Eitingon was a New York fur dealer whose connections with the Soviet Union made him the largest trader in the world. Imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, questioned by the FBI, was Motty everybody’s friend or everybody’s enemy?
Mary-Kay Wilmers began looking into aspects of her remarkable family twenty years ago. The result is a book of astonishing scope and thrilling originality which throws light into some of the darkest corners of the last century. At the centre of the story stands the author herself — ironic, precise, searching, and stylish – wondering not only about where she is from, but about what she’s entitled to know.
The Eitingons is a riveting history of the twentieth century. It deals with war, displacement, murder, espionage, the Jewish Diaspora and psychoanalysis. It explains the murder of Trotsky, the growth of Freud's teachings, the importance of the fur trade and the lure of the past. There is a lightness and a truthfulness in the narrative that makes you turn every page with pure fascination.
Wilmers is a true scholar of these times and a sophisticated narrator. ... (Her) 21st-century awareness of what we want from stories has ... given us a view of the 20th century that is often horribly real.
A truly fascinating family history, almost epic in its tracing back and forth across the Atlantic and full of what heights human beings can reach, as well as the depths.
I was impressed this year by Mary-Kay Wilmers's The Eitingons. It tells the story of three of her relatives - one a KGB killer, one a member of the Freud circle, and the third a champion fur trader. Not only are the stories fantastic, but the writing is both stylish and original. I wish there were more books like this: personal and searching ... The Eitingons is driven - beautifully, I feel - by a single person's sensibility, the author's view of several worlds we seldom see into.
Mary-Kay Wilmers's The Eitingtons is a secret history of the 20th century in which members of her family played a crucial role - one in the fur trade after the Russian revolution; another as an early disciple of Freud's; and a third, an agent of Stalin's, who set up the assassination of Trotsky. The fact that this last one was the most fun, or at least the most fascinating, is an aspect of the book's originality. I found the book a riveting piece of story-telling.
My prose book of the year is without a doubt The Eitingtons by Mary-Kay Wilmers. A completely riveting story of the author's wider family ... it is a book that turns out to be shadowing the 20th century itself. And there are other shadows, not least the shadow of the author herself, who appears and disappears so stylishly and funnily in the pages of this book. Carefulness, patience, irony, indirection - all the great prose virtues are here.
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