Private Life in Stalin's Russia
By Orlando Figes
Metropolitan Books, Hardcover, 9780805074611, 784pp.
Publication Date: November 13, 2007
List Price: $35.00*
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There have been many accounts of the public aspects of Stalin's dictatorship: the arrests and trials, the enslavement and killing in the gulags. No previous book, however, has explored the regime's effect on people's personal lives, what one historian called "the Stalinism that entered into all of us." Now, drawing on a huge collection of newly discovered documents, "The Whisperers" reveals for the first time the inner world of ordinary Soviet citizens as they struggled to survive amidst the mistrust, fear, compromises, and betrayals that pervaded their existence.
Moving from the Revolution of 1917 to the death of Stalin and beyond, Orlando Figes re-creates the moral maze in which Russians found themselves, where one wrong turn could destroy a family or, perversely, end up saving it. He brings us inside cramped communal apartments, where minor squabbles could lead to fatal denunciations; he examines the Communist faithful, who often rationalized even their own arrest as a case of mistaken identity; and he casts a humanizing light on informers, demonstrating how, in a repressive system, anyone could easily become a collaborator.
A vast panoramic portrait of a society in which everyone spoke in whispers--whether to protect their families and friends, or to inform upon them--"The Whisperers" is a gripping account of lives lived in impossible times.
Orlando Figes is the author of Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia and A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891–1924, which received the Wolfson Prize for History and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A frequent contributor to The New York Times and The New York Review of Books, among other publications, Figes is a professor of history at Birbeck College, University of London.
“Extraordinary… vividly reveals a people whose entire existence was defined by the taboo against private life as well as the resilience, and resistance, of the human soul in the face of forcible reorientation.”—The New Yorker
“Extraordinary… Thanks to Figes, these survivors overcame their silence and have lifted their voices above a whisper.”—Joshua Rubenstein, The New York Times Book Review
“Gripping… The Whisperers is one of the best literary monuments to the Soviet people… a fascinating encyclopedia of human relations during the Stalinist Terror.”—Andrey Kurkov, New Statesman
“Brilliant and shocking… a powerful history of emotional life in a society in which the personal was ruthlessly repressed for three-quarters of a century.”—Geraldine Bedell, The Guardian (UK)
“The everyday lives of Russians between the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 is the subject of Orlando Figes’ illuminating and profoundly moving new book. Filled with the stories of hundreds of survivors, many of which make for desperately painful reading, The Whisperers offers the most thorough account so far of what it meant to live under Soviet totalitarianism.”—Douglas Smith, The Seattle Times
“A tapestry of the Stalinist era woven from the personal experiences and words of Soviet citizens, both betrayers and betrayed… the research is extensive and subtle, Figes uses it to elucidate the texture of daily life and the ways humanity was perverted by a regime of terror.”—The Atlantic
“Remarkable.”—The New York Sun
‘“Magisterial’ may be an overworked adjective in book reviews, but it accurately describes Orlando Figes’s latest volume. He deserves kudos for his penetrating narrative.”—The New Leader
“This book, about the breakers and the broken, explains in brutal detail how a political ideal contrived to beat an entire country's heart out of place. The author of A People’s Tragedy and Natasha’s Dance has outdone himself.”
“Figes organizes his material superbly, and writes with such self-effacing lucidity that these people seem to speak directly to the reader. This is a very important book—authoritative, vivid, precise, and in places, almost unbearably moving.”
“Masterfully composed and controlled as a narrative by Figes, this is a collective testimony in which you can hear voices through a doorway open at last, recounting the hopes, fears and numberless awful tragedies of the Soviet era…. The Whisperers is like a rainbow over a graveyard.”
—Alexander Cockburn, The Sunday Times (UK)
“This book is the result of a large-scale research project and its importance cannot be overestimated. Figes and his team have unearthed diaries and accounts from archives and interviewed hundreds of survivors. This is a heartrending book… which should be made compulsory reading in Russia today.”
—Antony Beevor, The Times (UK)