The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia

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From the award-winning author of A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance, a landmark account of what private life was like for Russians in the worst years of Soviet repression

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.

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About the author

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.

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Metropolitan Books
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Published on
Nov 25, 2008
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History / Modern / 20th Century
History / Russia & the Former Soviet Union
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Eligible for Family Library

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Orlando Figes
Orlando Figes
History on a grand scale--an enchanting masterpiece that explores the making of one of the world's most vibrant civilizations

A People's Tragedy, wrote Eric Hobsbawm, did "more to help us understand the Russian Revolution than any other book I know." Now, in Natasha's Dance, internationally renowned historian Orlando Figes does the same for Russian culture, summoning the myriad elements that formed a nation and held it together.

Beginning in the eighteenth century with the building of St. Petersburg--a "window on the West"--and culminating with the challenges posed to Russian identity by the Soviet regime, Figes examines how writers, artists, and musicians grappled with the idea of Russia itself--its character, spiritual essence, and destiny. He skillfully interweaves the great works--by Dostoevsky, Stravinsky, and Chagall--with folk embroidery, peasant songs, religious icons, and all the customs of daily life, from food and drink to bathing habits to beliefs about the spirit world. Figes's characters range high and low: the revered Tolstoy, who left his deathbed to search for the Kingdom of God, as well as the serf girl Praskovya, who became Russian opera's first superstar and shocked society by becoming her owner's wife.

Like the European-schooled countess Natasha performing an impromptu folk dance in Tolstoy's War and Peace, the spirit of "Russianness" is revealed by Figes as rich and uplifting, complex and contradictory--a powerful force that unified a vast country and proved more lasting than any Russian ruler or state.

Orlando Figes
Scrisă într-un stil narativ care surprinde atât amploarea, cât și numeroase detalii privind desfășurarea imensului cataclism istoric care a fost Revoluția Rusă, istoria lui Orlando Figes este unul dintre cele mai importante studii contemporane asupra Rusiei începutului de secol XX. Decupajul cronologic ales de autor este relevant: începând cu anii 1880, corespunzători abandonării de către regimul țarist a tentativelor de reformă și revenirii în forță, odată cu Alexandru al III-lea, a unei politici autocrate, și până la moartea lui Lenin, în 1924. Figes urmărește istoriile individuale a numeroase personaje din diverse categorii sociale – de la scriitorul Maxim Gorki, a cărui corespondență îi dezvăluie incredibila luciditate, trecând prin frumoasa figură a țăranului reformator Serghei Semionov, până la personaje ambivalente cum ar fi Dmitri Oskin, un simplu soldat pe care războiul civil îl va transforma într-un comisar bolșevic nemilos. Încă de la primele ore, Revoluția Rusă a fost o jacquerie de o violență incredibilă pe care numai bolșevicii au reușit să o exploateze. Lenin, căruia Figes îi schițează un portret fascinant, a înțeles avantajul pe care îl putea obține. Violența – și slăbiciunea adversarilor lor – le-a deschis calea bolșevicilor, apoi Terorii Roșii și consolidării sistemului partidului-stat polițienesc, birocratic, corupt și ineficient care avea să dureze până la sfârșitul anilor 1980.
Orlando Figes
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