Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: "The Voices of the Dead" by Hiroaki Kuromiya

From Goodreads:  Swept up in the maelstrom of Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937-1938, nearly a million people died. Most were ordinary citizens who left no records and as a result have been completely forgotten. This book is the first to attempt to retrieve their stories and reconstruct their lives, drawing upon recently declassified archives of the former Soviet Secret Police in Kiev. Hiroaki Kuromiya uncovers in the archives the hushed voices of the condemned, and he chronicles the lives of dozens of individuals who shared the same dehumanizing fate: all were falsely arrested, executed, and dumped in mass graves.

 Kuromiya investigates the truth behind the fabricated records, filling in at least some of the details of the lives and deaths of ballerinas, priests, beggars, teachers, peasants, workers, soldiers, pensioners, homemakers, fugitives, peddlers, ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Koreans, Jews, and others. In recounting the extraordinary stories gleaned from the secret files, Kuromiya not only commemorates the dead and forgotten but also proposes a new interpretation of Soviet society that provides useful insights into the enigma of Stalinist terror.

My Thoughts:  This book has been on my shelf for several years and I finally got around to reading it.  It is a discussion of the victims of the Great Terror in Kiev between 1937-38 and was a fascinating, and horrifying, read.  Kuromiya has researched the stories of quite a few of the victims of the terror in that city but there were so many more and his research just covers one city in the Soviet Union in that era.  It makes me wonder about the numbers of victims were in other cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, etc.  I know it's a lot but it was pretty eye-opening to read such a focused study.  I guess I always tend to think of the Terror being centered in the heart of Russia and I like being able to see how it affected other regions of the Soviet Union.

Kuromiya tells these victims stories in their own words.  He includes their life stories, testimony from their interrogations and any other documentation he found in their files.  He also included a lot of pictures, copies of the interviews and letters written by the victims.  It was kind of sad to see all of these items and knowing how they had been used to bring about a person's demise.  It was fairly obvious from the information provided that most of these victims were innocent of all charges and were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I have read a lot about the Great Terror but it never ceases to amaze me the extent that Stalin went to in order to rid the Soviet Union of so called 'enemies of the people'.  Kuromiya's work was incredibly well-researched and well-written.  I felt like he did a good job of presenting the facts without getting emotional (which I totally would have done).  It was kind of dry at times but overall, an interesting read.  3 stars.

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