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84 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very moving and important book, 7 Oct. 2007
This review is from: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Oct 2008 14:40:20 BDT
S. Smith says:
Yes I totally agree - it took me a long time to read right through it but it is compulsive reading & lets the reader view the Stalinist terror as it was for ordinary people and the result it had on families torn apart sometimes never to see each other again. It begins at the beginning of the terror and takes the reader almost to the present day which is very different - thankfully- for Russia. The author makes a touching acknowledgement to all these people at the end of the book when he says 'to us these are true stories but to these people it was their lives' Susan Smith, Scotland

Posted on 31 Jul 2014 19:09:50 BDT
Last edited by the author on 31 Jul 2014 19:11:32 BDT
Charlotte says:
I would be very interested to know whether any of the Gulag survivors denounced by neighbours or friends solely for their own material gain(eg to get their larger flat) ever exacted revenge on such people when they returned home, if only by shaming them publicly. This fear-of what might inevitably happen when the outcasts returned after surprise amnesties, is touched on in "Cancer Ward"..but in my very limited reading about the subject, I have never seen it explored to any great extent.
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