Magazine article The Spectator

'Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators', by Jay Nordlinger - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators', by Jay Nordlinger - Review

Article excerpt

Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators Jay Nordlinger

Encounter Books, pp.336, £17.99, ISBN: 9781594038150

What was it like, asks Jay Nordlinger, to have Mao as your father, or Pol Pot, or Papa Doc? The answer is that while all happy families are alike, the children of monsters are unhappy in their own way. Some dictatorial offspring are fairly normal while others are psychos. Nicu Ceausescu, son of the rulers of Romania, was from the age of 14 a figure of 'comic-book evil' whose hobbies included raping women. His brother, Valentin, is bookish and quiet, has a close circle of decent friends and works at the Institute of Atomic Physics outside Bucharest.

For Svetlana Alliluyeva, being Stalin's daughter was like being, as she put it, 'already dead'. We can surmise that Kim Jong-il, the eldest son and successor of North Korea's Kim Il-sung, felt differently (fans of Team America will recall his heartfelt strain, 'I'm so ronery, so ronery, so ronery and sadly alone'). Colonel Gaddafi apparently raised his seven sons, all 'gruesome' and 'goonishly handsome', to be sadists.

Hitler had no official offspring, but a certain Frenchman, Jean-Marie Loret, was told by his mother when he reached the age of 30 that 'ton père s'appelait Hitler '. As a result of this bombshell, Loret grew a Hitler moustache and adorned his home with pictures of his dad. When Alina Fernández discovered, aged ten, that her father was Fidel Castro, she implored her mother to 'ask him to come here right away! I have so many things I want to tell him!' He needed to know about shortages of clothes and meat, and, she writes in her memoir, Castro's Daughter : 'I also wanted to ask him to give our Christmas back' (between 1969 and 1998, Castro banned Christmas). Alina later defected to America: 'Fidel has ruined Cuba,' she said in a radio broadcast. 'And for what? I don't think he even knows.'

Children of Monsters is a collection of 20 Wikipedia-style entries. Why 20, you may ask? 'I drew up a list of dictators I thought I should survey,' explains Nordlinger, a senior editor of the American magazine National Review , 'and it came to 20.' His information, which comes from biographies, memoirs and interviews, rarely strays beyond the remits of jaunty anecdote. 'Here's something that may amuse you,' he writes. 'For months on end, I borrowed books about dictators -- psychopaths, mass-murderers -- from the local library. …

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