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The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia Hardcover – 4 Oct 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 740 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (4 Oct. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713997028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713997026
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 4.8 x 24.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 347,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'A chilling new book...Figes has become Britain's foremost expert on Revolutionary Russia' -- Max Hastings, Daily Mail

'Be warned. This is a heartrending book...[it] should be made compulsory reading in Russia today.' -- Anthony Beevor, author of STALINGRAD

'Excellent ... riveting, at once solemn and lively. Figes has unwrapped the mystery inside the enigma of Stalinism'
-- The Washington Post

'[A] tremendous achievement...Masterfully controlled and composed...In its amazing testimonies to the strength of the Russian family in the Soviet Union, as well as the awful fissures the system imposed on those families, The Whisperers is like a rainbow over a graveyard.' -- Alexander Cockburn, Sunday Times

'[Figes is] the greatest storyteller of modern historians'
-- Simon Sebag Montefiore

`Brilliant ... he leaves one awed by the beauty and suffering'
-- Max Hastings

`Few historians have the courage to attack great subjects, fewer have the grasp to succeed ... will do more to help us understand the Russian revolution than any other book I know' -- Eric Hobsbawn

`One of the most unforgettable books I have ever read ... a celebration of family love in an epoch of hellish cruelty ... now in this book these righteous heroes have their rightful memorial' -- Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Young Stalin

`The author of A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance has outdone himself' -- Daily Telegraph

`This is a heart-rending book ... its importance cannot be overestimated' -- Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad


'Wonderful ... I've rarely read anything like it' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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 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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