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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Compelling
I came to this book knowing virtually nothing about Soviet Russia. My only background came from a book about the First World War and the effect of the Russian Revolution on the part the nation played, as well as a vague notion of the number of Russians killed during Stalin's regime. After reading the book I have a greater understanding of just what did happen and how...
Published on 5 Sep 2010 by Clare Topping

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23 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Does not do justice to its material
About half way through, this book becomes a struggle to read. This is a huge shame as it should be a classic. It brings together the experiences of families living in Stalin's Russia and offers a window into the homes (usually overcrowded single rooms) and lives of ordinary families. The book succeeds best when it shows us the traumatic impact on both individual and...
Published on 4 May 2009 by The Partick Potter


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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Compelling, 5 Sep 2010
By 
Clare Topping (Northamptonshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
I came to this book knowing virtually nothing about Soviet Russia. My only background came from a book about the First World War and the effect of the Russian Revolution on the part the nation played, as well as a vague notion of the number of Russians killed during Stalin's regime. After reading the book I have a greater understanding of just what did happen and how many people were affected and for how long.

As I started the book I wondered how well it would all fit together. There are no really central characters, it is a collection of short biographies, with only a few people appearing on more than a couple of occasions. However, their stories are so compelling, it works. Not only does the book include the memoirs of those sent to the Gulags and family members of those who were shot, it also includes those who were better off and profited from the Soviet system.

It is through the narratives of those who survived, and their families, some of whom remained firm believers in the Soviet system, that the reader can start to picture how life was like in the Soviet Union. It is not the poverty that leaves the biggest impression, as I am not sure that life was better for everyone in the UK in the 1920s and 1930s, but it is the fear and the terror, the inability to discuss anything in public for fear of a knock at the door in the middle of the night. What this book brings home is that this fear pervaded every household, anyone could be an informer and just knowing the wrong people, having a 'spoilt biography' could be enough to be sent to a Labour camp.

I can't recommend this book enough, anyone who has any interest in twentieth century European history, or just wants to appreciate how liberal life is, should buy this.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still Whispering, 29 Oct 2008
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This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
You will never read a more granular, detailed and moving book about what Stalin did to his own people. The final whispering of the generations persecuted,the sheer number of people's stories might be overwhelming if they were not so individual and peculiar, so consistent and so different. You may go in thinking Stalin less evil than Hitler, but you will not finish this book with that idea. The sheer scale of the madness, the length of time it went on, will take your breath away. Orlando Figes writes plainly, and tells you first, what happened during the chapter (the context), then provides detailed examples, and follows a few family stories all the way from 1917 till today. This is great scholarship and history, valuable to professionals and ordinary readers.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A labour of love, 27 May 2010
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This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
'The Whisperers' by Orlando Figes is truly wonderful. Figes has pieced together the tragic story of Stalin's forgotten victims in their millions, and given them a voice. Anna Akhamatova, the Russian poet who spent most of her life hounded by the secret police, said about Stalin's victims, 'I will remember them always and everywhere/I will never forget them no matter what comes/even if they gag my exhausted mouth/through which a hundred million scream.'
Orlando Figes has done a similar thing. He has given the 'whisperers' a loud and clear voice. This is important for me, personally. My mother Olga was the daughter of a Ukrainian kulak, and was hounded by Stalin's secret police because of it. Kulaks were peasants who owned some land, and were murdered, imprisoned or exiled if they did not give their hard earned grain to the Soviet state. From 1932 -3 millions of Ukrainian peasants starved to death as a result, including Olga's brother Trofim. When she was 17, my mother was taken prisoner by the Nazis and used as a slave during the War. One of the very few who survived, she tried to go back to Ukraine after the War, only to be jailed for being a Nazi survivor. She escaped and made her way to Australia as a refugee. Unfortunately she always believed Stalin would get her and spent the last 17 years of her life in a mental hospital, a paranoid schizophrenic. (I wrote my parents' story in my memoir 'Sasha & Olga'). It is people like my parents Sasha and Olga, whom Orlando Figes honours, because with the unearthing of many testimonies, he describes the ghastliness that ordinary Russians, Ukrainians and other nationalities suffered as a result of the Soviet experiment.
A rivetting book, well told and thoroughly researched. Brilliant! I love Orlando Figes because he was courageous enough to enter a very dark and dreadful world, to write it.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Behind Stalin's statistics, 3 Aug 2009
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This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
The phrase, "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic" is usually attributed to Stalin, though no-one has been able to find a record of him actually saying it. Understandably, most if not all books written about the USSR in the Stalinist period operate on a level that precludes in depth analysis of the everyday lives of the ordinary people who lived through those decades; even an invaluable resource such as Anne Applebaum's "Gulag: A History" - Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps - is necessarily constrained by the focus of its subject matter and can only touch upon those left behind when their friends, families and neighbours were swallowed up into the Soviet labour camp system.

I can only echo the generally positive critiques left here by previous reviewers. This is an eloquently expressed work of fascinating social history. Although the presentation of the material militates against a linear narrative, Figes still manages to present a chronological view of the changing circumstances and attitudes of people who lived in the USSR from the early days of the revolution and civil war through to Stalin's death.

The impact upon the children of the Soviet state and the appalling psychological effects on them of The Great Terror (and other purges) is perhaps one of the most striking, disturbing and moving aspects of the book: there are countless examples of children who never remembered their parents, who were forced to renounce them, who were criminalised themselves even though they were minors, who worked and died in orphanages, and who were brain-washed by the system's propaganda. The case of Mikhail Mironov is a case in point: a talented artist, his parents were arrested when he was ten in 1936 and he died on the streets during the 1941 battle for Moscow. The book contains a plate of his beautifully formed handwriting and sketches in a letter to his mother.

There is much that is frighteningly ludicrous as well - reports that would be laughable were their consequences not so deadly: one resident of a communal apartment in the late 1930s argued with his neighbours, who promptly denounced him to the authorities for allowing Trotsky to live in his tool cupboard in the basement; in any sane society the self-evidently ridiculous charge would not even merit the attention of the lowliest of officials - the hapless carpenter here was sentenced to three years in a labour camp; he was lucky, in fact, not to be summarily shot.

As other reviewers have noted, though, this is ultimately an uplifting read: there are many tales of bravery, of grandmothers who could barely feed themselves taking in their orphaned grandchildren, even of people who weren't relatives hiding and supporting the victims of the system and often at great personal risk to themselves and their own loved ones.

Orlando Figes writes well and I certainly didn't find the text a difficult read at all; unfortunately, the often grim subject was all too compelling and I found this fascinating book hard to put down. I have no hesitation in recommending the work to anyone interested in twentieth century history generally or in Soviet history in particular; indeed, anyone with an interest in human nature and the ability of its finer qualities to endure even the harshest conditions will, I think, find this as edifying and moving a work as I did.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Personal aspects, 8 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
Wonderfully researched and well written. Very personal and saddening, although so true.
would recommend to anyone interested in same subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revolution Betrayed, 22 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
I recently purchased this book for a family member who is studying History at postgraduate level. I began to read it and I must say it reads extremely well but what I missed as a non historian was some background information about the main players in the revolution i.e. Stalin , Lenin , Trotsky and the others. Certainly the first chapter was very absorbing abd engrosing and I read it non stop for several hours. Having experienced the Iranian revolution I could understand some of the behaviour of the characters described and felt sympathy for them. I think Mr Figes is fair in his book and explains why the revolutionaries behaved as they did and writes a good description of their noble aims. I have always believed that the failure of the revolution can be put down to human falibility, mistakes, and in some cases lack of checks and balances that can exist in totaliterian regimes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving tribute to Soviet Citizens, 9 Jan 2014
By 
Mr. M. Herbert "Bowmore" (Scotland uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
This is a detailed analysis of the impact of the effects of extreme Sovietisation on the Russian peoples. It clearly sets of the changes made by Lenin to Marx theories and then again by the style of communism imposed by Stalin. Stalin's ruleby fear is utterly exposed for what it was. Nothing at all to do with the theories espoused by Marx and Engels, Stalinism really was a type of communism of its very own. The ruthless, stupidity of the policies imposed on people reduced them to a level of utter fear of denunciation, ostracism and penal servitude, often on barely circumstantial and flimsy "evidence" . Figes has gone to tremendous lengths in this book to obtain first hand accounts of the Great Terror, the state security services such as the NKVD and Cheka. It brings right home to the reader, the real risks and fear under which Soviet citizens were crushed into submission by a corrupt, crass, ineffective, bullying, dim Political elite. Excellent book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, 16 July 2013
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This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
Orlando Figes writes brilliantly about Russia. I don't know I have a soft spot for Russia, but I do (even reading through some really hard going Russian classics), and Figes brings Russian history to life. Impeccably researched, his books are full not only of the events of Russian history or of the main figures, but of the average, normal Russian. And it is this that makes his books so readable. They are full of letters, writings etc. from ordinary people who lived through the events (in this case the reign of Stalin) and how those events impacted them. I couldn't even imagine living through the time of Stalin, but the way Figes brings the lives of real people to 'life' through their own letters paints a vivid picture of Stalin's Russia.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True to Life, 6 April 2013
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A. J. Taylor - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
This is a tough book and describes some really dreadful times in Stalin's Russia. We need to read books to understand how lucky we are to be borne in the West.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truths unveiled..., 29 Jan 2010
This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Paperback)
Words cannot describe this book of many years of unspoken truths now revealed. The stories are heartbreaking, some times cold but yielding for closure on a chapter of Russian life that very few seemed after all to have wanted. A must read for those who seek the true stories behind image and propaganda.The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
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The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia by Orlando Figes (Paperback - 4 Sep 2008)
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