Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia

Overview

From the first publisher granted access to Stalin’s personal archive, a provocative and insightful portrait of modern Russia—the most compelling since David Remnick’s Lenin’s Tomb.

To most Americans, Russia remains as enigmatic today as it was during the Iron Curtain era. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country had an opportunity to face its tortured past. In Inside the Stalin Archives, Jonathan Brent asks, why didn’t this happen? Why are archivists under surveillance...

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Overview

From the first publisher granted access to Stalin’s personal archive, a provocative and insightful portrait of modern Russia—the most compelling since David Remnick’s Lenin’s Tomb.

To most Americans, Russia remains as enigmatic today as it was during the Iron Curtain era. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country had an opportunity to face its tortured past. In Inside the Stalin Archives, Jonathan Brent asks, why didn’t this happen? Why are archivists under surveillance and phones still tapped? Why does Stalin, a man responsible for millions of deaths of his own people, remain popular enough to appear on boxes of chocolate sold in Moscow’s airport?

Brent draws on fifteen years of unprecedented access to high-level Soviet Archives to answer these questions. He shows us a Russia where, in 1992, used toothbrushes were sold on the sidewalks, while now shops are filled with luxury goods and the streets are jammed with Mercedes. At the book’s crescendo, Brent takes us deep into the dictator’s personal archives to glimpse the dark heart of the new Russia while on the street and in their homes he finds the enduring strength and dignity of the Russian people. Both cultural history and personal memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives is a deeply felt and vivid portrait of Russia’s troubling place in the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

Philip Roth
“In a strongly-written, fascinating, and original book, Jonathan Brent interweaves portraits of Russians in their daily lives with an astute analysis of Joseph Stalin’s legacy.”
Martin Walker
Brent's engaging memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives, reveals as much about the grim realities of post-Soviet life and bureaucracy as it does about the archives themselves. Equipped with little Russian and few contacts, but with an almost palpable sense of decency and honest intentions that illuminate his book, Brent explains for the general reader as well as for specialists how he went about his work in the new Russia.
—The New York Times
readrussia.com
The author is careful to make neither heroes nor villains of the ghosts he summons from the archives, incorporating flawed personalities into stories of unthinkable justice.— Katya Tylevich
The New York Review
In the first part of his engaging and well-written memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives, Brent tells the story of the [Annals of Communism's] genesis. He conjures up the Moscow of the early 1990s, a time when the Russians were struggling to recover from the loss of the old certainties following the collapse of the Soviet system and adapt to a market-based economy.— Orlando Figes
Cynthia Ozick
“Inside the Stalin Archives is a necessary report from the Soviet netherworld of totalizing injustice that ought to have been universally known throughout the greater part of the twentieth century—when it could not have existed. Jonathan Brent’s discoveries will shake and shock and indispensably enlighten.”
readrussia.com - Katya Tylevich
“The author is careful to make neither heroes nor villains of the ghosts he summons from the archives, incorporating flawed personalities into stories of unthinkable justice.”
The New Criterion - Gary Saul Morson
“Brent seized a unique opportunity that, if not for him, would doubtless have been missed….[H]is book shows us the conditions—moral, personal, and material—that Russians take for granted but which are utterly unlike anything Americans have ever experienced.”
The New York Review - Orlando Figes
“In the first part of his engaging and well-written memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives, Brent tells the story of the [Annals of Communism's] genesis. He conjures up the Moscow of the early 1990s, a time when the Russians were struggling to recover from the loss of the old certainties following the collapse of the Soviet system and adapt to a market-based economy.”
Simon Sebag Montefiore
“A fascinating, subtle, and finely written quest into the Russia of today through the dark labyrinth of history. Brent unveils not only the secrets of his journeys into Soviet Archives, but also a unique yet personal portrait of an enigmatic country and a blood-soaked century.”
New York Times Review of Books - Martin Walker
“Brent's engaging memoir . . . reveals as much about the grim realities of post-Soviet life and bureaucracy as it does about the archives themselves. Equipped with little Russian and few contacts, but with an almost palpable sense of decency and honest intentions that illuminate his book, Brent explains for the general reader as well as for specialists how he went about his work in the new Russia.”
Katya Tylevich - readrussia.com
“The author is careful to make neither heroes nor villains of the ghosts he summons from the archives, incorporating flawed personalities into stories of unthinkable justice.”
Gary Saul Morson - The New Criterion
“Brent seized a unique opportunity that, if not for him, would doubtless have been missed….[H]is book shows us the conditions—moral, personal, and material—that Russians take for granted but which are utterly unlike anything Americans have ever experienced.”
Orlando Figes - The New York Review
“In the first part of his engaging and well-written memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives, Brent tells the story of the [Annals of Communism's] genesis. He conjures up the Moscow of the early 1990s, a time when the Russians were struggling to recover from the loss of the old certainties following the collapse of the Soviet system and adapt to a market-based economy.”
Martin Walker - New York Times Review of Books
“Brent's engaging memoir . . . reveals as much about the grim realities of post-Soviet life and bureaucracy as it does about the archives themselves. Equipped with little Russian and few contacts, but with an almost palpable sense of decency and honest intentions that illuminate his book, Brent explains for the general reader as well as for specialists how he went about his work in the new Russia.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934633229
  • Publisher: Atlas
  • Publication date: 2/22/2010
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Brent is the editorial director of Yale University Press, where he founded the Annals of Communism series in 1991. He is the coauthor of Stalin's Last Crime, and a frequent contributor to the New Criterion, the Observer, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He teaches Soviet literature and history at Bard College and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Connections

Ch. 1 Descent: January 1992 18

Ch. 2 Mariana 26

Ch. 3 Into the Archive 36

Ch. 4 Mariana, Continued 58

Ch. 5 The Little Man 61

Ch. 6 Mariana, Continued 77

Ch. 7 Day Two in the Archive: The Only American 80

Ch. 8 Pikhoia 99

Ch. 9 Farewell 117

Pt. 2 Searching

Ch. 10 In the Labyrinth 122

Ch. 11 Turmoil, Misdirection, Fear 154

Ch. 12 "Farewell, Dead Men" 171

Ch. 13 The Secret Death of Isaac Babel 176

Ch. 14 Raoul Wallenberg 201

Ch. 15 Erofeev's Widow 205

Ch. 16 Vsyo Normalno 209

Ch. 17 Vergil 226

Ch. 18 Tezhov's Office 235

Ch. 19 The Personal Archive of Josef Stalin 248

Ch. 20 Stalin 267

Ch. 21 Stalin's Hand 288

Notes 326

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Inside The Stalin Archives is so important because it demonstrates the return of Russia under Medvedev and Putin to the Soviet thought patterns never erased by an acknowledgement of or even a study of the downside of Soviet history in Russia itself.

    A major reason that this book is so topical lies in its slow and brilliantly detailed descriptions of the author, a book editor of Yale University Press, becoming acclimated to Russia after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The book begins in 1992 and author Brent, who has never been to Moscow before and knows little Russian, finds himself competing with major book publishers from around the world for the rights to make a major publishing series on the Soviet Archives. Brent discovers immediately in '92 that old habits die hard, and that many of the functionaries who run the Soviet Archives have not bought into perestroika, glasnost, or any other reforms that Yeltsin is trying to develop in a newly democratic Russia.

    The book covers over a decade of Brent's slow development of a group of allies within the Archives, and in the process discovers and shares with the reader the many ways that Russia has never in its history been run by a democratic frame of mind. He peels off the layers of what I'd call "bureaucratic authoritarianism" that pervades all of Russian society, even during a period when Moscow is evolving from a drab dour dingy city to a place with at least good restaurants, hotels, and a glitzy flashy superficial night life dominated by oligarchs with convoys of limos filled with highly-armed bodyguards. Putin has given capitalism the nod, but Brent discovers that it is a capitalist system that is barely a mixed economy---the state provides very few functions, but still exercises authoritarian control over all aspects of civic and media functions. Brent notes how journalists must still tread lightly on Putin's territory, and the mysterious deaths and frequent open assassinations of investigative journalists repeat what the Soviet era did to dissidents outside the Soviet Union right inside Moscow.

    Brent's overall take on post-Soviet Russia is sobering and thoughtful without being maudlin or overly grim. Russia has always been a top-down society and any references to "democracy" must be accompanied by a gigantic asterisk. Because in Brent's understated analysis, Russians are accustomed to being told what to do by their leaders and any demonstration of small-"d" democracy is regarded as weakness. Hence Putin's rapid re-centralization of all of Russia, erasing even tiny efforts at federalism by local elections of regional governors, is simply a return to the "status-quo-ante" the liberation of the "captive nations" occurring in the late-'80s. Russia wants to dominate the CSR, or FSU, or whatever group is devised to delineate former Soviet regional republics. And in the case of Georgia, he will employ brutal military force to re-establish Russian hegemony over its former territories.

    Brent's analysis ends in 2006, but the series of books Yale Press was able to put together with joint authorship by Russian archivists was a brief glimpse into the Russian past during the Soviet era. Putin and his successor Medvedev have re-shut the doors of the Archives [whose name characteristically changes during the period covered by the book at least three times by my count] to western scholars who don't pass a zampolit test by Russian-leadership gatekeepers. Brent writes well and gives great psychological portraits of individuals whose lives were dominated by a brutal censorship most of their careers, but who retained humanity and integrity throughout. Brent sees a fu

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    Posted April 10, 2012

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    Posted August 2, 2009

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