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The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,982 Ratings  ·  179 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
Paperback, 739 pages
Published 2008 by Penguin Books (first published October 4th 2007)
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Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian-history
I loved this book as it is a sharp and shocking insight into Russia history that is extremely well written and informative
Every now and again I need to be shocked by history and while I have read a lot of books on this period in history and the terror of Stalin, The Whisperers has something entirely different to offer as it tells the accounts of the the loved ones left behind after their husbands wife's mothers or fathers have been informed on and either shot or sent to the Gulag.

The Whisper
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21-ce, history, uk
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 dev
Apr 14, 2008 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
Oct 14, 2011 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
Jul 24, 2011 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 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
Jul 26, 2014 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 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
Orlando Figes wrote the book I would have dreamed of writing had I earned a PhD, was well connected, able to secure grant money and been fluent in Russian. I appreciate this massive undertaking involving teams of researchers and much travel. Thank God he got to so many witnesses to History before they died! The result offers insight into the minds of Stalinists and their victims Often, sadly, overlapping in the same mind. To be a victim was not necessarily to shed your faith in Stalin. As I plod ...more
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an impressively well-researched book written in a very vivid manner. It took me quite a while to finish it not only because of its length but also because of the moving story of the lives of ordinary people in Russia that it depicts. The story starts in 1917 with flashbacks to the earlier years and lasts till the collapse of the Soviet Union, and poignantly describes past events and a footprint they left on the people who were victims of the circumstances. The pain inflicted by the perpe ...more
Jan 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All interested in Russian history
If you have read The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, you should read this book too! An exceptional book that not only records the facts but also analyzes how people react and why they react in the way that they do. What seems incomprehensible behavior is better understood. So a book not only concerned with historical facts but even more importantly about people and what makes us who we are. I have a different hardcover edition which is not available on GoodReads. I prefer it. The two small chi ...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.
During Stalin's reign of terror, everyday people were afraid.  They were afraid their past would come back to haunt them, and they were afraid to say what they really thought. When they did speak, they did so in whispers, because the walls had ears.  In this book, Orlando Figes spent years researching the personal testimony of people who lived through the Stalin era, and sought to shed some light on how people lived in a time when millions were imprisoned on false testimony and self-preservation ...more
May 13, 2009 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
Evelyn Puerto
May 16, 2011 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
Bas Kreuger
Feb 11, 2012 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,
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
Alberto Martín de Hijas
El título de este libro (muy bueno, si bien algo deprimente) hace referencia tanto al miedo a la gente a hablar con libertad, como a los susurros de los confidentes al denunciar. Figes recopila testimonios (principalmente orales) de víctimas de la represión, los enlaza con la vida del escritor Estalinista Konstantin Simonov y los combina para formar un fresco de la historia de la URSS (con énfasis en el periodo de 1930 a 1956) El autor consigue contar las historias sin marcar las tintas en lo dr ...more
Sep 22, 2008 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
Kathy B
Mar 02, 2015 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. The personal interviews and summaries were very well writt ...more
"To be honest about those times, it is not only Stalin that you cannot forgive, but you yourself. It is not that you did something bad--maybe you did nothing wrong, at least on the face of it--but that you became accustomed to evil...You lived in the midst of these events, blind and deaf to everything, you saw and heard nothing when people all around you were shot and killed, when people all around you disappeared."
Sep 04, 2009 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.
May 06, 2010 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.
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the scariest books I have read, yet one of the most interesting and also in a way it is positive.... It makes Pol Pot in Cambodia, about which I've read a lot, seem like a bit of an ammateur in the stalinist terror stakes...
Bryan Allison
May 26, 2009 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.
Luke Devenish
Feb 17, 2015 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.
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.
Erin Britton
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Orlando Figes has the enviable distinction of being the writer of the excellent book A People's Tragedy, arguably the best and most thorough account of the Russian Revolution from 1891 to 1924. In A People's Tragedy Figes deftly managed to capture the epic impact of the war and the revolution but never lost sight of the human impact of such momentous events and the individual lives that were changed, more often for the worse. With The Whisperers, Figes has continued his study of the impact of "h ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in a contemporary Russian history class in college. We looked at history through the eyes of everyday people, and this book was instrumental in understanding what life was like in Soviet Russia during Stalin's rule.

It was not an easy read for me... in fact, this book made me heavily depressed. I grew up during Perestroika, and the effects of the events described in this book were visible all around me - in the space and culture of 90's Russia. Then Putin came to power and we fou
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Putin censoring Orlando Figes Stalin book? 1 44 Mar 12, 2009 11:25PM  
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Orlando Figes is a British historian of Russia, and a professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London.
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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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