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Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the…
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Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia (2008)

by Jonathan Brent

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This book is not what I was expected. I thought it would be a nonfiction account of some of the excesses and terror of Stalin's reign. Instead it is a memoir (of sorts) and an examination of how this brutal past affects post-thaw Russia.

Beginning in 1992, Jonathan Brent traveled frequently to Russia to negotiate for the publishing rights to the archives on behalf of Yale University Press for a planned series of volumes on this period of Soviet history. Some of the topics the Yale press contemplated were: The Great Terror of the 1930's; Church and the Revolution; Comintern and the Repressions of the 1930's; Daily Lives of Peasants and Workers in the 1920's and 1930's; Suppression of the Arts and Artists; and other topics. Brent's account of the ongoing negotiations are interesting, starting with the question of who had the authority to grant publication rights and what specific rights could be granted. At the time the "new" Russia was chaotic, personalities were stronger than laws. We learn that the first volume Yale published (in 1995) was The Secret World of American Communism, which revealed that the Communist Party of America was in fact spying for the Soviets. However, Brent's book contains no information as to any subsequent volumes--topics, when published etc. There are no notes or bibliography in this book, one of the reasons I would describe it as a memoir.

The other focus of this book is an examination of how Soviet life has changed, and whether it has the potential to return to a new Stalinist regime. Brent's premise is that the ruling element of the Russian psyche is Strakh, or fear. Brent had extensive conversations with Alexander Yakovlev, the developer of the principles of glastnost and perestroika. Yakovlev believes that Strakh remains barely beneath the surface of Russian life, and that there has been no basis for a moral awakening in Russia. There has been no general accounting--no Nuremberg-like trials for Stalin's excesses, no public reconciliation between victims and victimizers, no restoration of property or adequate compensation to the millions whose lives were damaged or destroyed. Yakovlev's belief was that the structures for Stalinism remain in place: secrecy, conspiracy, concentration of power, violence as a legitimate exercise of political power, corruption and the absence of laws. Although these conversations took place in 2003, and this book was published in 2008, perhaps these factors contribute to what we are seeing today with the changes being made by Putin. (and by the way, Bonnie (brenzi) has an excellent review of a biography of Putin, which I hope to get to soon).

So, all in all, this book has lots of good points and made for interesting reading. It was not as complete or as documented as I would have liked. If you choose to read it, be aware that it is not a substantive examination of the Stalin era. ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Nov 11, 2013 |
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  MightyLeaf | May 25, 2010 |
A wonderful book...When a friend told me about it, I half expected a somewhat dry political book, but since the subject was so "close to home" I was eager to read it. And I am delighted that I did. The author describes 15 years of research on Stalin and the history of his rule. J.Brent was a frequent visitor of Moscow during 1992-2007, and he has a very good insight into the life of the city during this tumultuous time in Russian history, just after the fall of communism. He intertwines his impressions of life as it is now with the glimpses into the archives and the deeds of the past. His style of writing is very engaging, his objectivity impressed me. ( )
  Clara53 | Mar 10, 2009 |
Not only does this book give a look at Russia's past, it also gives an interesting window into life in present-day Moscow. For example, who knew that there is no telephone book for Moscow? Imagine the implications of life in a city of that size with no telephone directory available. That alone should let us see that it's a different world. Having visited in Eastern Europe, I know it is true, but an occasional reminder is a good thing to have. ( )
  khiemstra631 | Jan 30, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0977743330, Hardcover)

From the first publisher granted access to Stalin's personal archive, a provocative and insightful portrait of modern Russia—the most compelling since David Remnick's Lenin's Tomb.

To most Americans, Russia remains as enigmatic today as it was during the Iron Curtain era. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country had an opportunity to face its tortured past. In Inside the Stalin Archives, Jonathan Brent asks, why didn't this happen? Why are the anti-Semitic Protocols of Zion sold openly in the lobby of the State Duma? Why are archivists under surveillance and phones still tapped? Why does Stalin, a man responsible for the deaths of millions of his own people, remain popular enough to appear on boxes of chocolate sold in Moscow's airport?

Brent draws on fifteen years of unprecedented access to high-level Soviet Archives to answer these questions. He shows us a Russia where, in 1992, used toothbrushes were sold on the sidewalks, while now shops are filled with luxury goods and the streets are jammed with Mercedes. Stalin's specter hovers throughout, and in the book's crescendo Brent takes us deep into the dictator's personal papers to glimpse the dark heart of the new Russia. Both cultural history and personal memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives is a deeply felt and vivid portrait of Russia in the twenty-first century.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:50 -0400)

To most Americans, Russia remains as enigmatic today as it was during the Iron Curtain era. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country had an opportunity to confront its tortured past. Here, author Brent asks why this didn't happen. Why are archivists under surveillance and phones still tapped? Why does Stalin, responsible for the deaths of millions of his own people, remain popular enough to appear on boxes of chocolate? Brent draws on fifteen years of access to high-level Soviet archives to answer these questions. He shows us a Russia where, in 1992, used toothbrushes were sold on the sidewalks, while now shops are filled with luxury goods. Stalin's specter hovers throughout, and in the dictator's personal papers we find an unnerving prophecy of the world to come. Both cultural history and personal memoir, this is a deeply felt and vivid portrait of Russia in the 21st century.--From publisher description.… (more)

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