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Orlando Figes's magisterial work tells the story of Stalin's Russia through the lives of its victims. It finds that misplaced idealism, as much as blind fear, was what made them obey Stalin

By Ben Lewis   November 2007

The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, by Orlando Figes Allen Lane, £30

Orlando Figes is the master of a new genre. Instead of historical novels, he writes novelistic histories. The Whisperers is a tragedy on the scale of Life and Fate and War and Peace, with a cast of characters to match. Take the story of the arrest of Ilia Slavin, as recalled by his daughter. “The NKVD men led papa to the door. I followed him. Suddenly he turned round to look at me once more. He could see the chaos of enormous emotions inside me. Choked by…

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