Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Fitbit



There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 26 September 2015
'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. Even after the war and the further repression something of the human genie had escaped the bottle.

What is quite clear as we have been recognising more and more in the last 20 or 30 years, is that Communism is every much as evil as Nazism, and that Stalin was an greater murderer than Hitler. The tragedy of the Second World War is that the two vilest tyrannies the world has ever seen did not destroy each other. Instead the jackboot of Germany was displaced by the jackboot of the Soviet Union. It is a terrible but undeniable lesson of history that those ideologies that have sought to create de novo, that would eradicate the past to build the perfect future, have done incalculable damage. Just look at the French Revolution: Wordsworth's 'very heaven' soon became Burke's human hell. The Guillotine not the tricolour, is that revolution's lasting legacy. Both the French and Russians managed to replace a bad authoritarian regime with something much much worse. The only successful revolution was that of the Americans where although much was new it built on the old: the English common law, and freedoms wrested from a tyrant kings by Magna Carta, the English Civil War, and the Glorious Revolution. In other words what America did, steeped in the English tradition, was evolutionary far more than it was revolutionary. Nor did it feed on blood lust. It exalted, rather, the rights of the individual against the state. This was not true in Communist Russia or China or Korea. The state, or at lest the Party, can do and think and believe no wrong. However many wars religion may have fostered they were as nothing to the wars and carnage occasioned by atheistic ideologies.

What amazes and affrights me is the ease with which authoritarian norms have returned to Russia under Czar Putin. Stalin has always had his devotees but now his cult is resurging. If a German were to praise the virtues of Hitler he would be vilified and imprisoned, yet eminent ad ordinary Russians can still revere that quintessential monster, Stalin, with impunity. Oh he won the Great patriotic War, they say. No he did not, however much Russians may have done. He almost lost it, by massacring his generals, by his tactical incompetence, and by trust in his old friend, Hitler. How many Russians then or now are aware of the fact that, before the war, Hitler was Stalin's ally in that unholy pack for raping Poland.

I am aware of the controversy which had surrounded Figes's work but the voices that speak through this book sound authentic, and the picture they portray of having to live and lie in the communist paradise ring true. The author has done a major service in recording and securing this living legacy of one of the most soul-destroying periods and places in human history. it gives us the beginning of an understanding of the Russian psyche during the psychotic years of Communist tyranny. However hypocritical the West maybe at least in Britain and America and the countries influenced by the common law constitutional tradition, liberty, equality before the law, civil liberties and human rights have been enshrined, and the culture has flourished. it is hard to imagine the British or Americans succumbing to the chicanery and brutality of a sadistic dictator such as Stalin. It is equally hard to imagine our culture creating such a monster. If this is cultural imperialism I am glad to be a cultural imperialist and have the freedom to express such sentiments. Twitter abuse I can put up with, far preferable to the Gulags
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 3 October 2007
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.
0Comment| 76 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 January 2014
There should be no doubt that the ordinairy Russian people were as big a victims of the Soviet system as all the inhabitants of the countries they invaded. This book shows the tragedy of the wrecked Russian lives that were the consequence of a criminal system masquerading as a ideology.

What I find incredible is how many people in the West and the US are still prepared to over-look or excuse mass murder committed by the Soviets.

This book reveals the reality of the day to day struggle to live and survive in Stalin's Russia.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 September 2010
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.
0Comment| 35 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 26 September 2015
'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. Even after the war and the further repression something of the human genie had escaped the bottle.

What is quite clear as we have been recognising more and more in the last 20 or 30 years, is that Communism is every much as evil as Nazism, and that Stalin was an greater murderer than Hitler. The tragedy of the Second World War is that the two vilest tyrannies the world has ever seen did not destroy each other. Instead the jackboot of Germany was displaced by the jackboot of the Soviet Union. It is a terrible but undeniable lesson of history that those ideologies that have sought to create de novo, that would eradicate the past to build the perfect future, have done incalculable damage. Just look at the French Revolution: Wordsworth's 'very heaven' soon became Burke's human hell. The Guillotine not the tricolour, is that revolution's lasting legacy. Both the French and Russians managed to replace a bad authoritarian regime with something much much worse. The only successful revolution was that of the Americans where although much was new it built on the old: the English common law, and freedoms wrested from a tyrant kings by Magna Carta, the English Civil War, and the Glorious Revolution. In other words what America did, steeped in the English tradition, was evolutionary far more than it was revolutionary. Nor did it feed on blood lust. It exalted, rather, the rights of the individual against the state. This was not true in Communist Russia or China or Korea. The state, or at lest the Party, can do and think and believe no wrong. However many wars religion may have fostered they were as nothing to the wars and carnage occasioned by atheistic ideologies.

What amazes and affrights me is the ease with which authoritarian norms have returned to Russia under Czar Putin. Stalin has always had his devotees but now his cult is resurging. If a German were to praise the virtues of Hitler he would be vilified and imprisoned, yet eminent ad ordinary Russians can still revere that quintessential monster, Stalin, with impunity. Oh he won the Great patriotic War, they say. No he did not, however much Russians may have done. He almost lost it, by massacring his generals, by his tactical incompetence, and by trust in his old friend, Hitler. How many Russians then or now are aware of the fact that, before the war, Hitler was Stalin's ally in that unholy pack for raping Poland.

I am aware of the controversy which had surrounded Figes's work but the voices that speak through this book sound authentic, and the picture they portray of having to live and lie in the communist paradise ring true. The author has done a major service in recording and securing this living legacy of one of the most soul-destroying periods and places in human history. it gives us the beginning of an understanding of the Russian psyche during the psychotic years of Communist tyranny. However hypocritical the West maybe at least in Britain and America and the countries influenced by the common law constitutional tradition, liberty, equality before the law, civil liberties and human rights have been enshrined, and the culture has flourished. it is hard to imagine the British or Americans succumbing to the chicanery and brutality of a sadistic dictator such as Stalin. It is equally hard to imagine our culture creating such a monster. If this is cultural imperialism I am glad to be a cultural imperialist and have the freedom to express such sentiments. Twitter abuse I can put up with, far preferable to the Gulags
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 16 July 2013
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.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 9 January 2014
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!
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 29 October 2008
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.
0Comment| 46 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 January 2014
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.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 26 September 2015
'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. Even after the war and the further repression something of the human genie had escaped the bottle.

What is quite clear as we have been recognising more and more in the last 20 or 30 years, is that Communism is every much as evil as Nazism, and that Stalin was an greater murderer than Hitler. The tragedy of the Second World War is that the two vilest tyrannies the world has ever seen did not destroy each other. Instead the jackboot of Germany was displaced by the jackboot of the Soviet Union. It is a terrible but undeniable lesson of history that those ideologies that have sought to create de novo, that would eradicate the past to build the perfect future, have done incalculable damage. Just look at the French Revolution: Wordsworth's 'very heaven' soon became Burke's human hell. The Guillotine not the tricolour, is that revolution's lasting legacy. Both the French and Russians managed to replace a bad authoritarian regime with something much much worse. The only successful revolution was that of the Americans where although much was new it built on the old: the English common law, and freedoms wrested from a tyrant kings by Magna Carta, the English Civil War, and the Glorious Revolution. In other words what America did, steeped in the English tradition, was evolutionary far more than it was revolutionary. Nor did it feed on blood lust. It exalted, rather, the rights of the individual against the state. This was not true in Communist Russia or China or Korea. The state, or at lest the Party, can do and think and believe no wrong. However many wars religion may have fostered they were as nothing to the wars and carnage occasioned by atheistic ideologies.

What amazes and affrights me is the ease with which authoritarian norms have returned to Russia under Czar Putin. Stalin has always had his devotees but now his cult is resurging. If a German were to praise the virtues of Hitler he would be vilified and imprisoned, yet eminent ad ordinary Russians can still revere that quintessential monster, Stalin, with impunity. Oh he won the Great patriotic War, they say. No he did not, however much Russians may have done. He almost lost it, by massacring his generals, by his tactical incompetence, and by trust in his old friend, Hitler. How many Russians then or now are aware of the fact that, before the war, Hitler was Stalin's ally in that unholy pack for raping Poland.

I am aware of the controversy which had surrounded Figes's work but the voices that speak through this book sound authentic, and the picture they portray of having to live and lie in the communist paradise ring true. The author has done a major service in recording and securing this living legacy of one of the most soul-destroying periods and places in human history. it gives us the beginning of an understanding of the Russian psyche during the psychotic years of Communist tyranny. However hypocritical the West maybe at least in Britain and America and the countries influenced by the common law constitutional tradition, liberty, equality before the law, civil liberties and human rights have been enshrined, and the culture has flourished. it is hard to imagine the British or Americans succumbing to the chicanery and brutality of a sadistic dictator such as Stalin. It is equally hard to imagine our culture creating such a monster. If this is cultural imperialism I am glad to be a cultural imperialist and have the freedom to express such sentiments. Twitter abuse I can put up with, far preferable to the Gulags
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse