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Book Review: Behind the Iron Curtain: Tears in the Perfect Hockey "GULAG"

February 12, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 164

Non-fiction/Memoir Behind the Iron Curtain: Tears in the Perfect Hockey 'GULAG' Maxim Starchenko 2011 RoseDog Books 144 pages

Maxim Starchenko was an eight-year-old living in Kharkiv, Ukraine when he was recruited by hockey coach, Ivan Pravilov. His memoir, "Behind the Iron Curtain: Tears in the Perfect Hockey 'GULAG,' recounts the horrible physical and psychological abuse he and the other members of his team endured while playing for Pravilov. This is a difficult book with vivid descriptions of the abuse that occurred throughout Starchenko's ten years with the team. The author courageously shares his story to unburden himself and to encourage his former teammates to speak out about the abuse they suffered at Pravilov's hand.

The Hockey team Starchenko joined as a second grader in 1986 was called Druzhba-78. "Druzhba" means friendship and "78" refers to the year the boys were born. Throughout the book, the author makes note of the "unfriendly" atmosphere that Pravilov created among the teammates as he used violence and brainwashing techniques to pit the boys against each other. The author compares Pravilov to Stalin. Starchenko further compares the GUGLAG (Soviet concentration camps) system of slave labor that thrived on a culture of informants and spies to Pravilov's coaching style which pitted the players against each other. No one wanted to be Pravilov's "focus" and each child would do anything to avoid the abuse.

Starchenko describes several episodes of abuse committed against him by Coach Pravilov including being struck on the back of the knees and on the buttocks with a hockey stick. One particularly disturbing episode the author describes involved Pravilov repeatedly hitting him in the head with a hockey stick. There is also a story in the book that suggests Pravilov sodomized another player with a hockey stick. The hockey stick was often Pravilov's weapon of choice. The violence and humiliation escalated during the teams international travels in the nineties. According to Starchenko, Pravilov frequently demanded that the boys fight each other during these trips. Eventually, the "punishments" took on a sexual tone.

Even though there were laws against child abuse in the Soviet Union during Starchenko's time on the team, Pravilov was rarely confronted by adults who observed the children's injuries. Starchenko's own parents believed remaining on the hockey team was important for their son's future. While Starchenko does not hold back when recounting his parents' behavior during his time playing under Pravilov, he states that he bears no hard feeling towards them. Starchenko's his own loyalty to the coach resulted in Pravilov making him his recruiting assistant after Starchenko's team dissolved.

On February 10, 2012, Ivan Pravilov was found dead while in custody in Philadelphia on charges of child-molestation. Suicide is the suspected cause of death. This new development adds credibility to the accusations Starchenko makes in his book. It also assures that no other child will ever endure the abuse Starchenko and his teammates lived through.

"Behind the Iron Curtain" is not simply another story of childhood abuse. It is a clarion call to parents, educators, coaches and others involved in organized sports to make it their duty to become aware of abuse and to speak out against it.

Melissa Brown Levine for Independent Professional Book Reviewers

Melissa Brown Levine is the author of "I Need to Make Promises: A Novella and Stories"

Source: EzineArticles
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Article Tags:

Hockey Gulag


Perfect Hockey


Ivan Pravilov


Psychological Abuse


Physical Abuse

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