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The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,601 Ratings  ·  148 Reviews
From the award-winning author of A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance, a landmark account of what private life was like for Russians in the worst years of Soviet repression There have been many accounts of the public aspects of Stalin's dictatorship: the arrests and trials, the enslavement and killing in the gulags. No previous book, however, has explored the regime's ef ...more
Paperback, 739 pages
Published 2008 by Penguin Books (first published October 4th 2007)
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Apr 18, 2016 William1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk, 21-ce, history
There's a quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that Steven Pinker uses in Better Angels of Our Nature:
Macbeth's self-justifications were feeble--and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare's evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.

And he's right. For it was solely by way of a demented, incoherent ideology that tens of millions were murdered by Stalin & Company. No conscience de
Apr 14, 2008 Sol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Private Life on The Stalin’s Conveyor of Deaths
(Some thoughts about Orlando Figes’ book)

By Sol Tetelbaum (Fremont, CA USA)

I learned about the book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, by Orlando Figes due to which linked it with my memoir (Family Matters and More: Stories of My Life in Soviet Russia, by Sol Tetelbaum) that was published recently. My first thought was that a person like me, who was born in Soviet Russia in the middle of the thirties, read a lot of about St
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
A Million Tragedies

If you’ve seen the David Lean film version of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago you may recall the scene where Lara, hearing wolves howl in the snowy distance, turns to Yuri in fright, saying that this is a terrible time to be alive. This is in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Civil War that followed; history in action, a process that overwhelmed so many individual lives, consumed by fear, uncertainty and terror.

But Lara did not know then how bad
May 04, 2012 AC rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting book; parts of it are very moving. I found the explanation for the Terror in Ch. 8 quite persuasive (see * below). OTOH, it is really not necessary to publish 700 page books that consist mainly of repetitive examples. That's what footnotes and reference systems, after all, are for...

* Stalin was expecting war with the fascist powers, and believed (not without cause) that the Western powers were trying to divert Hitler "to the East". And he feared (as the Tsar had suffered in W
Oct 28, 2014 Dеnnis marked it as maybe  ·  review of another edition
This is a vital article published recently in The Nation about this controversial book and why it was not published in Russia after two attempts by different publishers. I hope that in its wake its readers' rankings would be less upbeat.

Orlando Figes and Stalin's Victims. Peter Reddaway and Stephen F. Cohen
May 23, 2012

Many Western observers believe that Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime has in effect banned a Russian edition of a widely acclaimed 2007 book by the British historian Orlando F
Jan 07, 2008 william rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought I had satisfied by obsession with Russia this decade, but this new study by Figes -- who wrote the marvelous cultural history Nastaha's Dance -- makes it all the more fascinating, terrible and human.
Shiva Shetty
Dec 24, 2014 Shiva Shetty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Back in 2012 I voted `Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea` by Barbara Demick as my favourite book of that year. It gave the readers a searing look into the life of ordinary people in the present day hell that is North Korea. Think of THE WHISPERERS, as `Nothing to Envy` on a much larger canvas and far more disturbing in its well researched details.

Some background : Growing up in the CBSE educational system in India meant you were invariably fed the bland sanitized Congress party appro
Moray Barclay
Aug 03, 2011 Moray Barclay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Whisperers’ uplifting ending is worth the wait. This compelling tome took me a long time to read, but not in a negative way. Orlando Figes’ oral history of Stalin’s Russia is largely based on several hundred interviews, from which several dozen ordinary family histories emerge at various points in time. The flip side was that, on many occasions, I forgot who was who and kept having to refer to the index, which then directed me to a point two hundred pages earlier. I ended up reading large pa ...more
Kseniya Melnik
What an achievement. For a history book, this reads like a novel. Fascinating material, lucid writing style, palpable dedication to research. Respect.
May 13, 2009 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Josef Stalin is commonly credited with the aphorism, "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." Given the lives lost during his rule, the attribution is fitting regardless of whether the attribution is correct. Yet the latest exploration of Russian history by Orlando Figes goes beyond the deaths as he tries to show us through individuals just how markedly Stalin's rule affected tens of millions.[return][return]With The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia , Figes bri ...more
Bas Kreuger
Feb 11, 2012 Bas Kreuger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A disturbing book. It describes in detail, maybe too much detail as it gets repetetive at places, the lives of Soviet citizens during Stalins reign.
There is the torture of the secret police, the spying by colleagues, family members and just people in the streets. That is gruesom in itself, but even more frightning is the state of mind people are getting into, a form of collective psychological damage of a whole society that gets ingrained with distrust, deformed shapes of loyality versus state,
Evelyn Puerto
Mar 02, 2012 Evelyn Puerto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soviet-union
Most memoirs or biographies of the survivors of Stalin’s Great Terror concentrate on those who were imprisoned or killed. The Whisperers gives us an intimate look at the devastation experienced by the family members left behind.

The spouses, parents and children of Stalin’s victims also suffered. Many were harassed and persecuted for being related to “an enemy of the people.” Others lost jobs or places to live. Routinely, if relatives of those who disappeared into the Gulag wanted to attend a un
Kathy B
Mar 02, 2015 Kathy B rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent depiction of Russia during the Stalin regime. I have to confess, when it first arrived I thought "crap! Wish I would have had Laurie to remind me to check the page count before I picked this book!" That being said, it was extremely well written and the maps were very helpful to get a sense of Russian history and geography. I learned a lot that I did not know about Russian history and the communist regime in general. recommended.
Wow, this book took me a very long time to finish! This contains many accounts by persons that lived before, during & after Stalin's rein in Russia. These were taken from memoirs, bits of paper, stories told in person. No matter who was imprisoned, taken to work in the gulags, many never ever wanted to say their government screwed them. Many remained true to the system, even after all was changed. The title refers to how people lived, always afraid someone would turn them in, for some word, ...more
Sep 22, 2008 Tracy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would have given it 5 stars but I can't read many of these books without going into a depression and feeling a severe sense of guilt. This book was very thorough and only could have been done in the last 10 or 15 years when all the sealed documents were made public. It is fortunate for us that the regime fell when it did or the victims would not have been around to tell their stories. Their reactions to the events they have suffered give us valuable knowledge in the works of the psyche. It is ...more
Apr 30, 2016 Evelyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Via extensive interviews, excerpts from letters and many private journals, along with strong and engaging writing, Orlando Figes reconstructs the horror that became private life during Stalin's long and increasingly paranoid reign over Russia. Whether peasant or patrician, barely anyone was unaffected.

Though I was aware, in a very broad sense of what took place during the years after Lenin's death through WWII and into the early 1950s, I had no idea of the scope and scale of the terror inflicte
Jul 01, 2014 Margolcia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Znany historyk i pisarz brytyjski podjął się gigantycznej i mozolnej pracy zgromadzenia i analizy materiałów na temat stalinowskiej Rosji. Jednak nie jej struktur, chociaż są istotne, nie polityki i gospodarki, a zwykłych ludzi, którym reżim odebrał osobowość, pozbawił sumienia i zdrowego rozsądku, wymazał tożsamość i zamienił w gromadę martwych, poplątanych sznurkami wskazówek i fałszywej ideologii, marionetek. W tym złowrogim teatrze brat denuncjował brata, śmierć wymazywała kolejne istnienia, ...more
Luke Devenish
Feb 17, 2015 Luke Devenish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, devastating, and continually inspiring in its picture of sheer human resilience. An extraordinary book. I couldn't put it down.
Oct 27, 2009 Romaskruse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an IMMENSE piece of literature. Extremely fascinating and revealing of the wretchedness of human nature. A very good rea, BUT, I would warn others that because it is so extensively documented and contains such a large number of families that it follows throughout the different stages of Stalin's reign it is sometimes hard to follow. But very good none-the-less. Not a light read by any means but very interesting.
Alisa Temme
May 28, 2016 Alisa Temme rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only learnt of the controversy surrounding this book just before I was about to start it and if I'm truthful, I started out feeling somewhat apprehensive. However, I'd paid good money for the book, I have always been interested in Russia and its history, so I didn't want to leave it gathering dust on my bookshelves.
And I'm so glad I did give it a go. My apprehension was quickly forgotten once I became immersed in the book. Say what you want about Figes, he is a good writer, and has done a thor
Mary Catelli
Jul 08, 2014 Mary Catelli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-modern
This is not a light book.

True, there are much more severe books about the Soviet Union; this one only brushes on the labor camps and Gulag. But there's plenty enough grim in the things that aren't so bad as the Gulag.

Forging records to hide your kulak background -- especially when your village had to produce 17 such families, and well, you were the one picked. The way that people would confess such backgrounds to children only after decades.

The problem that the kulaks were in fact the hardest wo
May 09, 2010 Milan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia, non-fiction
Very interesting and shocking book. It's all about life if ordinary people in Russia during 1930s - during the phase of the most utopian period of Russian/Soviet communism. A period, when concepts like communal living, gulags and enemies of people were born and applied with ruthless efficiency. An important book.
Bryan Allison
Jun 01, 2009 Bryan Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one took me a while to complete, but it was absolutely worth the time. It's hard to imagine the turmoil and suffering inflicted on millions of people's lives by Stalin's policies, but this book tells their stories respectfully and thoroughly. A powerful, fascinating book.
Stefanie Lubkowski
This book is both a litany of sorrows, a testament to the ability of a people to survive, and a case study of repression both in terms of its victims and its perpetrators.
I first found this book on recommendation for books on Russian life that talk about the time period Catherynne Valente's Deathless has its story set. Midway through The Whisperers, I found a Goodreads review talking about the controversy behind the book, but it didn't go into much detail about the situation. I found these articles instead:
Feb 22, 2014 Tomi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. What a powerful book. Figes explains why Stalin was so successful in controlling a huge nation. He uses archival material, diaries, and interviews to show how miserable life in Soviet Russia was. One of the primary methods of control was through indoctrination as taught in the Soviet school system. how sad to read about people who were innocent, yet imprisoned and forced to do hard labor in the Gulag - yet contined to believe in Stalin as a good guy. Anyone who thinks socialism is a god ide ...more
Madara Aldina
Dziļš un apjomīgs pētījums par privāto dzīvi Staļina Krievijā. Grāmata seko vairāku dzimtu stāstiem cauri gadu desmitiem, un ir balstīta uz intervijām ar reāliem cilvēkiem un viņu saglabāto dokumentu analīzi. Grāmata, kas palīdz saprast, kāpēc notika tas, kas notika, un kāpēc joprojām daudzas lietas notiek tā, kā notiek, un cilvēki uzvedas tā, kā viņi uzvedas.

".. Mīta un atmiņu sajaukums ir atrodams katrā ģimenē, taču īpaša loma tam bija Padomju Savienībā, kur tika izpostīts miljoniem dzīvju. Ps
Jul 08, 2014 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘The Whisperers’ is a collection of personal accounts of daily life and death in Stalinist Russia. It is based on hundreds of interviews and family archives, collected with some difficulty. The book is a very effective attempt to personalise the appalling suffering during Stalin’s rule. As is often said, one death is a tragedy but thousands, even millions, are a mere statistic. The number of people that Stalin had killed, exiled, or tortured cannot readily be encompassed by the human mind. It se ...more
Carol Harrison
Nov 10, 2013 Carol Harrison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
656 pages later, I finally finished. I rated this book as amazing because not only has it been painstakingly researched over a period of many years, but it is very readable and fascinating all the way through. The author set out to explore how the extreme dictatorship and terror tactics of Stalin affected ordinary people and their everyday lives during his long grip on Russia, from the early 1930s to his death in 1956 and beyond. He starts in 1917 with the Bolshevik Revolution and especially chi ...more
Michael Griswold
Orlando Figes in "The Whispers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia" is a weighty tome on private life in Stalin's Russia. As Figes himself mentions, Stalin is not the subject of the book, but exists within the shadows of the Soviet society which Figes depicts. The people Figes depicts come from mostly peasant origins and where either affected or where part of the state apparatus.

These people are often a sea of contradictions. On one level, they want or need to serve the Soviet state out of survival
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Putin censoring Orlando Figes Stalin book? 3 41 Mar 13, 2009 07:05AM  
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Orlando Figes is a British historian of Russia, and a professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London.
More about Orlando Figes...

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“Political indoctrination was geared towards producing activists. The propaganda image of the ideal child was a precocious political orator mouthing agitprop. Communism could not be taught from books, educational thinkers maintained. It had to be instilled through the whole life of the school, which was in turn to be connected to the broader world of politics through extra-curricular activities, such as celebrating Soviet holidays, joining public marches, reading newspapers and organizing school debates and trials. The idea was to initiate the children into the practices, cults and rituals of the Soviet system so that they would grow up to become loyal and active Communists.” 1 likes
“Pavlik denounced his father’s crimes, and when Trofim shouted out, ‘It’s me, your father,’ the boy told the judge: ‘Yes, he used to be my father, but I no longer consider him my father. I am not acting as a son, but as a Pioneer.” 1 likes
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