Slezkine builds the core of this epic narrative around the lives of a stunning cast of Soviet personalities in the period from the Russian Revolution through the aftermath of World War II. The main characters are the residents of the House of Government, an immense edifice in Moscow, completed in 1931, that housed the Soviet elite. He traces their lives, often in their own words, from youthful idealism and ardent revolutionary fervor to disillusionment and prosaic surrender to pragmatism—and, for a vast portion of the protagonists, exile or death during Stalin’s terror. The book is richly layered and multifaceted: it offers a philosophical reflection on religion and its relationship to the intellectual underpinnings of the Russian Revolution, a political and biographical history of the first half of the twentieth century, a study of the period’s key literary texts, and an extensive assessment of Stalinist architecture. The book’s depth (not to mention its length) invites the reader to luxuriate in it, chapter by chapter, rather than simply plowing through.
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