The Whisperers

Private Life in Stalin's Russia
Narrated by: John Telfer
Length: 29 hrs and 47 mins
Categories: History, Russia
5 out of 5 stars (91 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Drawing on a huge range of sources - letters, memoirs, conversations - Orlando Figes tells the story of how Russians tried to endure life under Stalin. Those who shaped the political system became, very frequently, its victims. Those who were its victims were frequently quite blameless. 

The Whisperers re-creates the sort of maze in which Russians found themselves, where an unwitting wrong turn could either destroy a family or, perversely, later save it: a society in which everyone spoke in whispers - whether to protect themselves, their families, neighbours or friends - or to inform on them.

©2018 Orlando Figes (P)2018 Audible, Ltd
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A Real Life Dystopian Nightmare

It’s hard to even begin to explain the tragedy detailed in this book. It reads like a horrible dystopian nightmare that people cannot wake up from and often don’t even understand they are in. It’s hard to imagine that this world ever existed, but it was very real for millions.

Soviet repression and Stalinism is rightly associated with the Gulag and the extensive network of Soviet prisons. But compared to the entire population, only a small part of Russian society experienced these places. This work explores what happened to the rest of Russian society (it is a book that primarily looks at urban Russia, but much of it could be expanded to the broader Soviet Union).

It details the repressive Soviet “social engineering” experiment, the attempt to control every facet of life – where they lived, who they lived with, where they went to school, who went to school, where you worked, what, when and where you ate. It demonstrates the relentless attempt to destroy every vestige of private life and with it a person’s sense of being an individual. It also shows how ordinary people coped with living in such a oppressive system and how they attempted to mitigate it and maintain some small piece of private life and individuality as a form of resistance to the destruction all around them.

The narration in the audiobook is excellent

15 people found this helpful

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A Nightmare few woke up from.

An amazing look at dark times in the USSR.
The narration is excellent, even if he and the author both are people I hadn't heard of before.
I'll wait to listen to more from both.

I can imagine the pain many of these eople went through.

7 people found this helpful

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A moving look at a terrible crime against humanity

I'd recommend it! Gets a little bogged down at points but the fact that the author is speaking for people long since murdered and forgotten by the system that they lived under is important.

5 people found this helpful

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A classic only hampered by poor editing

First, this is read beautifully. The shear number of stories of children's experiences of Stalinist Russia crushes any faith in humanity the reader may have harboured. The book though loses its way somewhat with an arbitrary biography of Simonov and several other stories that seem unrelated.

4 people found this helpful

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Saddest book ever

In reading this well detailed and researched book concerning the day to day life of Russian citizens. It’s so disheartening to read what they had to go through. All the horrible circumstances that were forced on to them in the name of communism and Stalin. This book attempts to do the individual life stories of Russians but no book can ever reveal the day to day horrible circumstances of having your family ripped from you and even worse having your sons or daughters ashamed of you because you were arrested and sent to a gulag. Stalin’s statement that if were we 10% correct on who who killed or sent to gulags then he was fine with that. Recently, I visited Moscow and the city and people are beautiful. God bless Russia.

2 people found this helpful

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wow. this book was amazing.

this was an incredible exploration of the in er lives of people living under stalin.

2 people found this helpful

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Another Figes marvel

There have been multiple exceptional books written about Russia during the time of Stalin's terror. Orlando Figes's work stands out as one of the very best. The story, though it revolves around multiple personalities, from famous Russian personas to regular persons, is easy to follow and continually riveting. Without a doubt, the story of Konstantin Simonov is exceptionally fascinating. This is the perfect fusion of author and narrator. John Telfer gives the perfect voice inflection for the precise time, never over doing it, reverting to monotone. It's utter perfection, just like this book.

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  • D MCKAY
  • 02-20-19

Good listen

well worth a read
an insight imto now vanished USSR and time of Stalin and the terror

3 people found this helpful

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  • Angus
  • 11-05-19

Very repetitive and skips Stalin's worst crimes

Given that the book almost entirely consists of people giving personal recounts of their experiences, with several being given in parallel per chapter in many cases, it's not surprising that it gets very repetitive. The words and phrases used get very annoying to hear over and over, I can't tell you how many times I heard "spoilt biography" but it was far too many times.

The reason I've given the story a 2 star rating is that there are basically no accounts from the victims of the famine-genocides in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, which I feel are Stalin's worst crimes. I have no idea why the author chose not to include the testimonies of the victims of these crimes, especially since he did a good job at conveying the horrors of the famine in 1921 and pinned the blame on Lenin's policies. Maybe the author thought it would require its own book but I would be extremely disappointed if this author felt that the topic was too touchy or controversial, given that many still deny the ethnic motivations behind the terror famines.

2 people found this helpful

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  • I. A. Wright
  • 08-12-19

Staggering exposure if psychotic evil

Figes takes you on an incredible and incredibly disturbing, even sickening, tour of Soviet society from before the Russian Revolution, through Lenin’s and Stalin’s purges, to Glasnost and the 1990s. He reveals the horror of totalitarianism and of Stalin’s psychotic paranoia and their effects on ordinary people who were generally innocent of the charges laid against them. Many were murdered, shot as punishment for innocence. Many were denounced by family, friends, neighbours out of spite or jealousy or desire to claim someone else’s property—aspects of the human condition that Marx had completely failed to take into account.

These were the effects of the implementation of Marxism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, of the initial demands that all thought of family were anti-social, against the good if the state, which was to be the only goal, the only love.

The number of people murdered by the state in the name of the state will never be known because, unlike the Nazis, the Soviets did not keep accurate records, but that number was anything from 20 million to perhaps something like 40 million. (If a person who was sent to a gulag dies of cold, disease, exhaustion, or starvation, is that death to be recorded as ‘natural causes’ or as murder?

People should be encouraged to read ‘The Whisperers’, so that they learn and understand the evils of Soviet-Marxist totalitarianism.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Sean
  • 11-19-18

I can't

begin to imagine what life was like in Soviet Russia, it's like a cold dark nightmare come true, a humanitarian disaster that lasted for decades.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Aleksei Olenichev
  • 02-21-20

Great book

Wonderfully narrated amazing book. Thanks Orlando Figes and John Telfer. And ofcourse Audible. Enjoyable experience.

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  • martin thomas
  • 10-16-19

Fascinating and sobering

A comprehensive social history of the Soviet system, exhaustive in its detail. I found the book to be compelling in places offering a real insight into the effects of Stalin’s terror. Perhaps just a little over long And repetitive in detail, however it would be difficult to edit given the fact that the brutality of this paranoid system of power affected ordinary people with terrible consequences All of which demand our attention.