In This Review

The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
By Orlando Figes
Metropolitan Books, 2007, 784 pp

Massive in sweep, cast, and length, this latest of Figes' books sets out to capture how life in Stalin's Soviet Union was lived, endured, rationalized, suffered, and, in many cases, embraced by those both high and low. Although scarcely the first study of Stalinism's impact on private lives (as the book's promotional materials falsely claim), it is by far the most exhaustive. Figes mines and merges multiple archives, memoir literature, and an immense number of interviews to capture the voices of both victims and victimizers. The melancholy panorama moves slowly from the blinkered idealism and cruelties of the early revolutionary years to the terror of high Stalinism to its lingering echo well beyond the tyrant's death, even beyond the Soviet Union itself. The whispering was not merely the conversation risked only in the narrowest circle of friends and family, not merely the behind-the-back betrayals and denunciations but, most poignantly, the surviving victim's past, buried or denied to even his or her eventual spouse and children.