Tear Off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia

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Tear Off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia

By Sheila Fitzpatrick
Princeton University Press, 2005
304 pp. $65.00
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Studying identity has become very fashionable, particularly in the post-Soviet field, but such study normally focuses on national identity -- the tortured effort of Russians and their neighbors to define their countries and give them meaning. Fitzpatrick focuses instead on the individual. Revolutions, she contends, force people "to reinvent themselves, to create or find within themselves personae that fit the new postrevolutionary society." It happened after 1917 and again after 1991. Learning to speak Bolshevism was deadly serious business, for not merely were one's life chances at stake, but in time so was one's life. At first, there loomed a regime obsessed with categorizing its people and unmasking those feigning a safe but false identity. But then a natural psychology prompted people to recast their autobiographies, and Fitzpatrick shows how with rich and revealing examples. The link to post-1991, stretched as it is, features the second phenomenon: the jarringly sudden reversal of personality, preferences, and ethos.