The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia

By ORLANDO FIGES

How could human feelings and emotions retain any force in the moral vacuum of the Stalinist regime? That’s the question with which Orlando Figes begins The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia. The answer is revealed in spellbinding, often harrowing tales of endurance, love, idealism, betrayal, and grief. Eschewing published memoirs in favor of personal testimony, the author of A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 draws from countless letters, journals, documents, and interviews with ordinary Russians to capture life under the evolving Soviet regime from the period just after the revolution through the tumult of the “Five Year Plan,” the living nightmare of the Great Terror, the Second World War, and the cycles of reform and repression which characterized Soviet life in the postwar period.

These stories don’t merely record the horror of purges, denunciations, and mass arrests; Figes also portrays the idealistic fervor of the revolutionary generation, and the tragic beauty of simple family life under the shadow of an implacable power. His painstaking and inclusive method yields a majestic — at times overwhelming — profusion of narrative truth.
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