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Whisperers, The: Private Life in Stalin's Russia Hardcover – 13 Nov 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 13 Nov 2007
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 740 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books (imprint of Henry Holt & Company); 1 edition (13 Nov. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805074619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805074611
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 4.4 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,018,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

This book is one of the best literary monuments to the Soviet people, on a par with The Gulag Archipelago and the prose of Shalamov. The Whisperers is a fascinating encyclopedia of human relations during the Stalinist Terror. -- Andrei Kurkov, New Statesman, December 5, 2007

From the Publisher

Shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize 2008
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Inside This Book

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First Sentence
Elizaveta Drabkina did not recognize her father when she saw him at the Smolny Institute, the Bolshevik headquarters, in October 1917. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This must be the most important book on the Soviet Union since The Gulag Archipelago, in 1973. It is based on hundreds of family archives and thousands of interviews with the survivors of the Stalin Terror which Figes and his team of researchers have spent years collecting from homes throughout Russia. The stories which they tell are amazing, heartbreaking. I defy anyone not to be moved.

Figes is a great writer - anyone who has read Natasha's Dance or the multi prize-winning A People's Tragedy will tell you that. But in The Whisperers he doesn't let his style get in the way of the people's stories which almost seem to come to us in their own voice. This transparency (and humility on Figes's part) only adds to the emotional and moral impact of the book.

Figes says that he hasn't set out to explain the origins of the Great Terror, or Stalin's cult or policies, but actually, as a student of these things, I learned much more from the stories of these people than from conventional histories. The story of Konstantin Simonov, which Figes places at the centre of The Whisperers, tells us far more about the nature of the Stalinist regime, about how it got people to collaborate with it, than any history book I've ever read.

The Whisperers is sub-titled Private Life in Stalin's Russia, but it is really about the Soviet system as a whole (its first chapter starts in 1917 and its last ends in the present) and about its legacies of seventy years of totalitarianism for Russia today. For anyone who wants to understand Russia (or the twentieth century) it is essential reading.
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Format: Hardcover
As a former citizen of the USSR, I want to thank Professor Figes for this memorable book. It is a monument to the millions of people who could not tell their stories out of fear. I know this history. It is the history of my family, which also suffered by Stalin, and afterwards. I think this book is really the first to tell in full what it was like to live in Stalin's time. There are so many details that ringed true to me, like, for example, what it was like to live in a communal apartment and be afraid of the neighbours. Also I know what it was like to live without talk about vanished members of the family. There are memoirs by famous writers like Ginzburg, but this book is the first to speak for the millions of ordinary Soviet citizens.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the most amazing book. Really - it is! I bought it after reading rave reviews in the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph and read it almost in two days, totally engrossed and often moved to tears by the stories of ordinary families surviving the Stalin years.

The book is based on several hundred family archives and on interviews with more than a thousand people, the last survivors of the Stalin Terror, in towns across Russia (Figes has done something very important by collecting all these testimonies for posterity). But The Whisperers is not just a book of voices or an oral history in the usual sense. Figes draws on these materials and interweaves a few of the more important family histories to construct a broader narrative that speaks for a whole generation.

I particularly liked the story of the Laskins and the Simonovs which is interwoven through the book. Figes manages to make us understand how educated people like the writer Konstantin Simonov lost themselves in the Stalinist system, how they took part in its repressions and even betrayed friends, without making easy moral judgements about their behaviour.

This is obviously a very important book. It tells us more about the nature of the Soviet regime, about the deep and long-term damage of terror and dictatorship, than any book I know; but it also tells us a great deal about the resilience of human beings.
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Format: Paperback
'I love it' , as the five stars say, is not exactly true. One cannot love a gut-wrenching account of the destruction of human personality, decency and humanity, but one can admire it. For a non-Russian it is impossible to get into the mind-set of people who would betray their own parents and children, would believe that everyone arrested must be guilty, that saboteurs and other ogres spawned from Communist paranoia and inability to admit to error, were everywhere, and that any sacrifice (of other peoples' and sometimes even their own blood) was justified by the earthly paradise to come. What is clear is that Communism murders not just the body but the soul. It is an acid dissolving or a cancer consuming human feelings and humane sentiments. Crazy North Korea is the nearest we have to Stalin's terrors.

This book, by telling their stories in their own words of those who survived, compromised, colluded in or even welcomed mass murder on an unparalleled scale, lays bare the Russian soul: agonised, guilt ridden, deferential, subjugated and despoiled. There seems to be no trust in Russia. Perhaps it is their savage history, their stoic resignation in the face of a succession of brutal autocracies, or something in the Russian psyche that explains this, but despite this book an enigma remains. One of the most glaring facts is that people who had devoted and distorted their lives in service of a communist ideal could never admit the terrible truth: that is was all for nothing but a mirage, and that an ideology had made them betray their humanity. But hope does resurge in sorts, like bluebells breaking through snow. During the Great Patriotic War fellow feeling and devotion to Mother Russia seemed to displace cringing fear, dissimulation and worship of the great Satan, Stalin.
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