total-ness of Stalinist totalitarianism.
Chris Berg reviews Resistance and dissent was not a
The Whisperers: viable option for individuals living in
Private Life in Stalin’s the early Soviet Union. Almost every-
body faced the stark choice between ar-
Russia rest and collaboration.
by Orlando Figes That choice, and the dual way of
(Metropolitan Books, life it created—between the fear of ar-
2008, 740 pages) rest and mutual denunciation—is the
source of The Whisperers’ title.
t has taken historians in both There are two words for ‘whisper’
Russia and the West a long time in Russian. Shepchushchii means whis-
to get their minds around Stalin- pering out of fear of being heard. As
ism. Anne Applebaum’s 2003 Gulag: A Resistance and many urban Russians lived in commu-
History went a long way to shedding nal apartments—either buildings spe-
some of the misconceptions about the dissent was not a cially designed for collective living, or
Stalinist system of repression—most in large houses confiscated from their
obviously on the left, where the history viable option for owners and subdivided into cramped
living quarters—there was an ever-pres-
of the gulag has been shamefully mini-
mised. In The Whisperers: Private Life individuals living ent fear of being overheard saying criti-
cal things about the Soviet regime. And
in Stalin’s Russia, Orlando Figes steps
into the lives of individuals and fami-
in the early Soviet the word sheptun refers to whispering
lies to expose the personal tragedies
which are hidden behind the statistics
Union. Almost or informing to the authorities. In the
cramped communal apartment, which
behind Stalinist repression.
The tragedy of the individual un-
everybody faced often housed dozens of residents, it was
easy for petty grudges to escalate into
der a dictatorship has been a common the stark choice letters to a local party chief.