Fans of the Austin Powers movies know that Dr. Evil wasn’t disappointed that his son Scott had considered becoming a veterinarian. Dr. Evil was just frustrated that Scott didn’t want to be an “evil” vet.
Likewise, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was crestfallen that his elder son, Valentin, became a physicist who lived comparatively quietly through his parents’ reign, which ended when Romanians toppled their regime in 1989 and ordered their execution on Christmas Day.
“Valentin wanted nothing to do with power and being a dictator,” Jay Nordlinger, author of “Children of Monsters: An Inquiry Into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators,” said recently. “Nicolae was very disappointed.”
No one ever gets to pick their parents, and that goes especially for the sons and daughters of the 20th century’s most notorious tyrants.
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The kids described by Nordlinger in “Children of Monsters” all had to come to grips with who their parents were and how they were going to lead their own lives.
Some followed their parents into notoriety. That included, according to Nordlinger, Bashar al-Assad, current president of Syria and son of Hafez al-Assad; and Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong-Un, son and grandson of Kim Il-Sung, who led North Korea from 1948 until his 1994 death.
But those who did not risked their parents’ wrath.
Most of the dictators examined by Nordlinger were not involved in such parental chores as taking the kids to the orthodontist.
Still, Idi Amin, the former Uganda strongman and president-for-life who fled his African nation in 1979 and later lived in exile in Saudi Arabia with many of his 60 children, enjoyed some of those duties.
“He loved to take his family shopping,” Nordlinger said. “They would pile into his station wagon, but that was when his duties as a mass murderer were over.”
As Nordlinger writes, kids of dictators can be vulnerable when their parents are no longer around. Less than two months after Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s 1953 death, son Vasily was arrested, convicted of anti-Soviet statements and sentenced to eight years in prison before being paroled later by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Life was not without consequence for these privileged children, and that’s why Nordlinger respected some of them for decisions they made later in their lives.
“I admired the dissenters, the rebels, the ones who faced up to the truth,” he said.
Examples include Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Stalin, and Alina Fernandez, daughter of Fidel Castro. They left the Soviet Union and Cuba, respectively, in 1967 and 1993.
“It really cost them — emotionally, mentally, spiritually,” Nordlinger said.
Nordlinger often renders these unusual stories with a light touch. He writes, for example, how Alliluyeva’s mother thought her father coddled her.
“We might pause to imagine a household in which Stalin is the more loving parent,” Nordlinger writes.
Stalin left unknown millions dead. The estimated number of those killed under Amin’s reign is 300,000.
“I figured the material was so dark, so terrible, that it should be leavened a bit,” Nordlinger said. “There has to be some gallows humor, otherwise, it is just unrelenting depravity.”
Meet the author
Jay Nordlinger, author of “Children of Monsters: An Inquiry Into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators,” speaks at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. For more info, go to kclibrary.org.