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The Whisperers

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  1,422 ratings  ·  137 reviews
"A "New York Times "Notable Book of 2007
""A tremendous achievement."--"The Sunday Times "(London)

"The Whisperers" is a triumphant act of recovery. In this powerful work of history, Orlando Figes chronicles the private history of family life during the violent and repressive reign of Josef Stalin. Drawing on a vast collection of interviews and archives, "The Whisperers" re
Paperback, 740 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Penguin Books (first published October 4th 2007)
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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 so many millions were starved and killed. (By the by, a new biography, K

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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Fascinating, devastating, and continually inspiring in its picture of sheer human resilience. An extraordinary book. I couldn't put it down.
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.
Mary Catelli
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
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
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:
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
‘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
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
Loring Wirbel
Orlando Figes is simply the number one go-to guy for histories of modern Russia, whether cultural ('Natasha's Dance') or political ('A People's Tragedy'). Nevertheless, I postponed diving into 'Whisperers' both due to its size, and what I felt was sure to be a daunting and depressing tone. While my trepidation was entirely correct, it felt good to finish 'The Whisperers,' and it was easy to award it five stars. It's important to grasp an accurate overview of the secret history of Stalin's years ...more
One of the most intriguing books I read in the last years. The book develops an intensity through all its personal testimonies that doesnt let you stop anymore. You just keep reading. The overwhelming amount of personal testimonies creates a panorama of the twofolded private life in the era of Stalin that keeps you reading at every hour.
The author pictures the difficult psychological position of the average Soviet citizen, being torn between the wish of being a good communist and the defence of
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Putin censoring Orlando Figes Stalin book? 3 36 Mar 13, 2009 07:05AM  
  • The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia
  • Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s
  • The Great Terror: A Reassessment
  • Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia
  • Gulag: A History
  • Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia
  • Man Is Wolf to Man: Surviving the Gulag
  • Young Stalin
  • Journey into the Whirlwind
  • A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army
  • Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia
  • Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution
  • Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire
  • Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey In Russian History
  • Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust
  • Eight Pieces of Empire: A 20-Year Journey Through the Soviet Collapse
  • Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall
  • Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War
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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“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
“Gorky called for the building of a monument to the young martyr, who, the writer said, had ‘understood that a relative by blood may also be an enemy of the spirit, and that such a person is not to be spared’.69” 1 likes
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