In This Review

Moscow 1956: The Silenced Spring
Moscow 1956: The Silenced Spring
By Kathleen E. Smith
Harvard University Press, 2017, 448 pp.

Nineteen fifty-six was an important year in Russian history, not because a war or a revolution began that year but because that is when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech to a Communist Party congress in which he unmasked the monstrous crimes and mistakes of his predecessor, Joseph Stalin. The content of the “secret speech,” the motivations behind it, and in broad terms the waves it created are all familiar. But until this book, the intricate and fraught ways that the confession played out in the Soviet Union were not. Smith proceeds month by month, choosing a theme for each: for March, the disorientation of the party faithful and their awkward effort to explain how Stalin’s abuses could have happened; for April, the impeded process of rehabilitating Stalin’s victims; for May, the struggle of prison camp victims to regain normal lives. The thoroughness with which she introduces her characters lends the account a riveting immediacy. De-Stalinization unleashed forces that the regime could not bear, and which it had crushed by the end of 1956. But the changes that started that year forever marked a generation, one that would continue to chip away at the Soviet system and that would ultimately bring it down.