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How It All Began: The Prison Novel by…

How It All Began: The Prison Novel

by Nikolai Bukharin, Nikolai Bukharin

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0231107315, Paperback)

The story behind How It All Began is almost as compelling as that contained within its pages. Of all those in Lenin's inner circle, Nikolai Bukharin stood out as a kinder, gentler sort of revolutionary: a painter, writer, and student of the social and natural sciences who later defended Lenin's liberal New Economic Policy during the '20s. If he hadn't fallen prey to Stalin's maniacal purges, the history of Russian Communism might have turned out quite differently. Instead, Bukharin spent a year in prison writing feverishly and awaiting trial. He finished four books during that hellish year--two books of political theory, a volume of poems, and then this unfinished novel--before being shot in his cell. The resulting manuscript could easily have vanished from the face of the earth. Improbably, it survived in Stalin's personal archives, from whence it was rescued, translated by George Shriver, and offered up as both historical document and genuinely interesting work of fiction--a sort of portrait of the revolutionary as a young man. How It All Began follows the coming of age of one Kolya Petrov, the son of vaguely liberal provincial Russians. Although Bukharin plants all the seeds of the political consciousness to come, this is done with a mercifully light touch, interspersed with character studies, lyrical descriptions of nature, and accounts of young Kolya's education. The book breaks off abruptly when Kolya is only 15, as the country was about to plunge into 1905's failed revolution--and as Bukharin himself was about to be silenced forever.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:17 -0400)

Here at last in English is Nikolai Bukharin's autobiographical novel and final work. Many dissident texts of the Stalin era were saved by chance, by bravery, or by cunning; others were systematically destroyed. Bukharin's work, however, was simultaneously preserved and suppressed within Stalin's personal archives. At once novel, memoir, political apology, and historical document, How It All Began, known in Russia as "the prison novel," adds deeply to our understanding of this vital intellectual and maligned historical figure. The panoramic story, composed under the worst of circumstances, traces the transformation of a sensitive young man into a fiery agitator, and presents a revealing new perspective on the background and causes of the revolution that transformed the face of the twentieth century. Among the millions of victims of the reign of terror in the Soviet Union of the 1930's, Bukharin stands out as a special case. Not yet 30 when the Bolsheviks took power, he was one of the youngest, most popular, and most intellectual members of the Communist Party. In the 1920's and 30's, he defended Lenin's liberal New Economic Policy, claiming that Stalin's policies of forced industrialization constituted a "military-feudal exploitation" of the masses. He also warned of the approaching tide of European fascism and its threat to the new Bolshevik revolution. For his opposition, Bukharin paid with his freedom and his life. He was arrested and spent a year in prison. In what was one of the most infamous "show trials" of the time, Bukharin confessed to being a "counterrevolutionary" while denying any particular crime and was executed in his prison cell on March 15, 1938. While in prison, Bukharin wrote four books, of which this unfinished novel was the last. It traces the development of Nikolai "Kolya" Petrov (closely modeled on Nikolai "Kolya" Bukharin) from his early childhood though to age fifteen. In lyrical and poetic terms it paints a picture of Nikolai's growing political consciousness and ends with his activism on the eve of the failed 1905 revolution. The novel is presented here along with the only surviving letter from Bukharin to his wife during his time in prison, an epistle filled with fear, longing, and hope for his family and his nation. The introduction by Stephen F. Cohen articulates Bukharin's significance in Soviet history and reveals the troubled journey of this novel from Stalin's archives into the light of day.… (more)

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