Nivat, a French journalist, lives in one of Moscow's seven wedding-cake skyscrapers -- Stalin's main contribution to Russian architecture. Completed in 1952, its first residents were the privileged families of prominent military leaders, security police, and cultural figures. Their heirs remain, along with an array of "new Russians" and Western businessmen. From a sample of the most interesting -- the movie actress Klara Luchkov, the great grandnephew of politician Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the stepdaughter of writer Konstantin Paustovksy, the old women who keep watch over the massive foyer -- Nivat extracts the building's intricate stories. Most of the interviewees are elderly, faded flowers surrounded by memorabilia and happy to talk about past glories, special privileges in Soviet times, and the degradation since. Nivat has hit on an ingenious, fascinating way to lift the cover on the Soviet past while also showing what has become of it in the present.
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