Stalin, the sensitive boy, by his mother

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More than 50 years after the death of Joseph Stalin, his mother’s previously unknown memoirs have been found in a secret former Soviet archive in his home state, Georgia. They portray the childhood of a sensitive boy who would become one of the great monsters of the 20th century, writes Tom Walker.

The Soviet dictator was born in 1878 (not 1879 as he later claimed), the only child of a cobbler and a seamstress, Beso and Keke Djugashvili. In her memoirs, Keke reveals that, having lost two babies, she regarded ''Soso'' –- the diminutive of Joseph –- as a religious miracle.

She details the illnesses and accidents that left him partly crippled, and the shadow he lived under as the son of a brutal alcoholic. His father ''could not stop drinking. A good family man was destroyed...his hands began shaking and he couldn’t sew shoes''.

''My Soso was a very sensitive child,'' reports Keke. ''As soon as he heard the sound of his father’s singing balaam-balaam from the street, he’d immediately run to me asking if he could go and wait at our neighbours’ until his father fell asleep.''

Keke’s memoirs were released from a locked archive by the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, at the request of Simon Sebag Montefiore, whose new book, Young Stalin, is serialised in News Review today [to be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25].

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