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Journey into the Whirlwind by Evgenia…

Journey into the Whirlwind (1967)

by Evgenia Semenovna Ginzburg

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504920,201 (4.19)40
  1. 20
    The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: One autobiographical and one fictional tale of what it was like to fall victim to Stalin's purges. Dunmore lists "Into The Whirlwind" as one of the books she referred to when writing "The Betrayal".
  2. 20
    Diner America by Xianliang Zhang (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Two descriptions of life in a labour camp, decades apart - one in 1930s Russia and one in 1950s China. Both very moving.
  3. 10
    The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia by Orlando Figes (meggyweg)
  4. 00
    Jag vill leva! : en skolflickas dagbok under Stalintiden by Nina Lugovskaya (meggyweg)
    meggyweg: Eugenia Ginzburg mentions Nina Lugovskaya in passing; they briefly shared a prison cell. In its two English editions, the book is titled "I Want To Live: The Diary of a Young Girl in Stalin's Russia" or "The Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl, 1932 - 1937."
  5. 00
    Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng (meggyweg)
    meggyweg: Being a victim of the Chinese Cultural Revolution isn't that much different from being a victim of Stalin's purges of the 1930s.

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My "to read" pile is large enough that often a book rises to the top of it and I have no recollection whatsoever of what put it into the pile in the first place. This was definitely true of Eugenia Ginzburg's autobiography "Journey into the Whirlwind." But boy, am I ever glad for whatever put this book into my sights in the first place.

Ginzburg's autobiography takes place in the 1930's in Russia, where she, a loyal member of the Communist Party, is sentenced to 10 years in solitary confinement as part of Stalin's "Great Purge." By the end of this story, she ends up in a Siberian labor camp after slipping away from death numerous times.

I only wish I had read this book decades ago, when I was in college and obsessed with Russian history... it probably would have had an even greater impact. I also wish the book's ending was so abrupt... while Ginzburg mentions she never saw her oldest son again, there is no information on what happened to her family (or how she eventually left the labor camp herself.)

At any rate, this is a really moving book and provides a great deal of insight, not only into a horrible period of Russian history, but also the human condition. ( )
  amerynth | Feb 22, 2015 |
This is a memoir of Ginzburg's life as a loyal Communist, and then her arrest, interrogation, and transport to the Siberian gulag during Stalin's reign of terror. She tells us her story without a hint of self-pity, yet she conveys the immensity of the tragedy that has overcome her, her family and friends, and all those she comes into contact with during her journey.

I read Gulag, Anne Applebaum's excellent history of the gulag last year, which in part was structured by considering separately each aspect of the process, i.e. the arrest, the interrogations, the transports, etc. I was struck by how closely Ginzburg's experiences matched those described in general by Applebaum. Ginzburg's memoir, however, conveys these events as unique and personal, and so all the more tragic.

I'll be reading the sequel, which focuses on her time in the gulag rather than her journey to the gulag, as soon as I can get my hands on it. This is a book everyone should read. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Sep 9, 2014 |
Into the Whirlwind is really an extraordinary book, I had never heard of Eugenia Ginzburg, and frankly felt very ignorant of the terror unleashed by Stalin during the 1930s. Into the Whirlwind doesn’t always make for easy reading, but for those interested in Russian history it must surely be required reading. In the 1930’s Ginzburg was a loyal communist party member, a university teacher and journalist. A wife and mother, living a life surrounded by people who thought as she did, Eugenia (Jenny) found herself caught up in Stalin’s Great Purge of 1937, accused on trumped up charges when her colleague Elvov at the university was charged with leading a counter-revolutionary group – a group that was totally fictitious. From 1934 when prominent party member kirov was assassinated Jenny suddenly found herself, suspected, watched and frequently questioned.
“The year 1937 really began on the 1st December 1934.
The telephone rang at four in the morning. My husband, Paul Aksyonov, a leading member of the Regional Committee of the party, was away on business. I could hear the steady breathing of my children asleep in the nursery next door”
The tension and fear that surrounded Jenny and her husband at this time, as they struggled to continue with their normal family life was palpable. Many people advised Jenny to flee – to disappear until “they” forgot about her – or things settled down, many other people in her situation had saved themselves this way. Jenny refused to do so, her belief in the party, and her own innocence leaving her vulnerable to what followed.
“Perhaps I’ll just stop at my mother’s on the way” I said to my husband.
“No, don’t. Go at once. The sooner it’s all cleared up the better.’
He helped me as I hurried into my things. I sent Alyosha off to the skating rink. He went without saying goodbye. I never saw him again.
For some strange reason, little Vasya, who was used to my coming and going and always took it perfectly calmly, kept asking insistently:
‘Where are you going, mummy, where? I don’t want you to go!’
But I could not so much as look at the children or kiss them. If I had, I would have died then and there. I turned away and called: ‘Nanny. Do take him. I haven’t time for him now.’
Perhaps it was just as well not to see my mother either. What must be must be, and there was no point in trying to postpone it. The door banged shut. I still remember the sound. That was all… I was never again to open that door behind which I had lived with my dear children. “
In 1937 she was finally arrested – and from then on spent almost twenty years in a series of Stalin’s prisons and labour camps. The first two years she spent in solitary, although fortunately for her, a lack of space meant that she soon had a cell mate with whom she developed a strong friendship. The treatment of so called “politicals” was especially harsh, the rules of the prison incredibly strict – but after a few months Jenny and her cell mate Julia were allowed books, oh and I could so appreciate the joy when finally after weeks of nothing at all to do – they had reading again. Those books and a few minutes’ walk outside each day were their only pleasures. The women were kept strictly segregated; however they quickly developed a way of communicating with other prisoners by tapping out messages on their cell walls, in this way they kept up a little with what was going on. The food was foul and lacked any real nourishment; the women became skeletal, and were later to find themselves suffering from scurvy and night blindness through lack of vitamins. The punishment cells were a frequent threat, where they were taken for the smallest of transgressions – singing for instance.
In 1939 – Jenny was herded onto a train with the rest of the prisoners and transported at a snail’s pace, through the stifling heat of a Russian summer, to a transit camp in Vladivostok and then on to Kolyma camp – one of Stalin’s network of Gulag prisons. On the train which took a month to cross Russia, the women were crowded together with just one cup of water a day each; they developed strong bonds, but necessarily quarrelled too. Women from different political backgrounds sometimes regarding one another with a degree of suspicion forced together in an unbearable situation. At the end of this dreadful journey, Jenny’s physical condition is so poor she isn’t expected to survive, and yet she does. Once she is in the labour camp, Jenny has new rules to learn, she is instructed by others in basic survival, for now she is no longer among just political prisoners – but among all kinds of prisoners, many really criminal and violent. Jenny is destined to remain in these camps for the next eighteen years, although this book is merely the first volume in Eugenia Ginzburg’s memoirs, and take us up to about 1940.
What comes across most strongly in this book is the resilience of these women, women separated forever from their families, from their children; Jenny herself never saw her eldest son, her husband or her parents again. Just as Jenny had in 1937, many of the women imprisoned with Jenny, believe in Stalin still, maintain that “He” couldn’t possibly be aware of what was happening in his name, that at some future time, the mistake would be remedied and all would be well.
This astonishing memoir is a brilliant addition to the Persephone list, I was rather amazed in fact at how much I enjoyed it, Eugenia Ginzburg comes across as a brave, intelligent woman, whose life was destroyed by Stalin, and yet who found the strength within herself, to not only survive, but survive well, and to go on and write about her experiences. I can’t help but hope that Persephone decide to publish the second volume at some stage too. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Apr 24, 2014 |
This is an insightful and disturbing account of the mindless persecution that swept Soviet Russia in the 1930s. Ginzburg is at her best when describing her Kafka-esque encounters with assorted interrogators and secret police, many of whom were at least as "guilty" as her. She's very good at illustrating the absurdity of some of her fellow prisoners who remained loyal Stalinists to the death. Also, she is able to convey to a large extent the overwhelming grief that could come from long-term isolation.

Overall, however, the book suffers from a problem of pacing: her two years of solitary confinement take up 270 of the 416 pages, leaving a much shorter portion devoted to her 16 years in the labor camps. I understand she wrote a sequel that dealt with this period of her life, but I was disappointed not to find more of it in this volume. The book itself feels long and gets sort of boring in Part II, just when I thought it would get more interesting. I attribute this to a more superficial treatment and a clumsy narrative structure (e.g. "flashing forward" to start recounting the fates of various women she is traveling with).

In addition, this book pales in comparison to memoirs like [b:Survival in Auschwitz|6174|Survival in Auschwitz|Primo Levi|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1165555421s/6174.jpg|851110] and [b:Homage to Catalonia|9646|Homage to Catalonia|George Orwell|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1286552776s/9646.jpg|2566499]. I realize that neither of those deals with Stalinist Russia, but there is no reason Ginzburg's memoir of devastating tribulation should not be just as captivating as those two. It's neither as well-written, informative, nor as vivid. ( )
  blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
Evgenia Ginzburg’s harrowing memoir of her experience in Soviet prisons and camps during the 1930’s is a powerful and compelling read. She relates the story of her arrest, trial, life in a series of prisons culminating in two years of (supposedly) solitary confinement in Yaroslavl, then her transport to some of the most notorious camps of the Gulag – Magaden, Kolyma. The prose is clear and vivid and the book is, for such an unpleasant subject, highly readable and engrossing. Ginzburg’s quick portraits of the interrogators and jailers as well as her fellow prisoners are sharply drawn. She highlights the absurdity and brutality of the system, but there are occasional flashes of happiness and laughter as well as small and large generosities that often prove life-saving. Ginzburg repeatedly finds strength and comfort in literature and poetry as well. Highly recommended and a must-read for anyone interested in the topic.

Ginzburg was an academic living in the provincial town of Kazan with a highly-placed husband, two sons and a happy family. After the assassination of Kirov, another professor was accused of forming a counterrevolutionary unit and Ginzburg was swept up in the circle of arrests. She was sentenced to ten years of solitary imprisonment but ended up serving 18 in prisons and camps of the Gulag. She covers the years leading up to her arrest and the first few years in the system in Journey Into the Whirlwind, the first part of her memoir.

She often had good luck as she notes throughout the book – one would have to in order to survive – but initially, she was fortunate in several ways. Suspicion fell on her before 1937 – the notorious year of the Great Terror – so she never solely blamed Yezhov, the head of the NKVD, and was disillusioned early on with Stalin. She would see some who still believed in him while eking out a life of misery in the camps. Still, she had some hope for the system –

“Even now – we asked ourselves – after all that has happened to us, would we vote for any other than the Soviet system, which seemed as much a part of us as our hearts and as natural to us as breathing? Everything I had in the world – the thousands of books I had read, memories of my youth, the very endurance which was now keeping me from going under – all this had been give me by the Soviet system, and the revolution which had transformed my world when I was a child. How exciting life had been and how gloriously everything had begun! What in God’s name had happened to us all?”

Her case was closed before new regulations allowed for torture so she was spared that experience during her interrogation. In her first prison in Kazan, Ginzburg had a caring and kind cellmate so she would later try to act in a similar manner. The atmosphere in several holding prisons was congenial and Ginzburg describes a wide variety of imprisoned women. There are the German and Italian Communists who fled Hitler and Mussolini and make her feel ashamed of the way they were treated by the Soviets; the experienced prisoners/Bolshevik boogeymen, the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who are kind but concerned about associating with the enemy; the cheerful “babblers” – women who told a joke about Stalin, know what they did and are lucky to “only” be serving 5 years; and the Communists who still believe they were only mistakenly arrested and are disgusted by the other women. Ginzburg describes many examples of people who receive their comeuppance – people who betrayed her, her interrogators, members of the NKVD. Though she describes a couple instances where she spitefully lashes out, in the end these are just murky and unhappy examples of a system cannibalizing its people.

Ginzburg clearly analyzes the people and policies during her trip through the meatgrinder and eventually lands in a solitary cell for two years. She was lucky to get a cellmate due to overcrowding and together they learn all sorts of strategies to communicate in the prison, flout regulations and try to make each grey day bearable. Her prison experience is a marked contrast to life in the camps and several women that she meets wonder which is worse. One lengthy chapter describes the hellish transport to the northern camps. Many of the women are happy to have company after years of solitary but the horrific conditions are vividly portrayed. Ginzburg also describes the fate of the women in parenthetical asides – a mixed lot, with most dying, a couple surviving and some becoming hardened oppressors. She notes names, families and backstories of her cellmates and fellow prisoners and it is clear that part of her intent is to share their lives as well.

Ginzburg and other politicals were looked down on by the common criminals and those with lighter sentences. In the camps, they were put on some of the worst jobs – felling trees. Ginzburg and her partner struggled to fulfill their norms and she compares them unfavorably to the efficient peasant Christian women, to whom such work seemed easy. However, her academic skills did come in use. Her knowledge of several languages enabled her to comfort some who didn’t speak Russian but also allowed her to bond with other inmates, which proved important in several instances. Books and poetry give her a distraction (they were allowed to read in solitary), some choice phrases to describe her situations, and occasionally a shield against despair.

“Poetry, at least, they could not take away from me! They had taken my dress, my shoes and stockings, and my comb, they had left me half naked and freezing, but this was not in their power to take away, it was and remained mine.”

“Then there was a shrill cry of despair; it continued for a long while on the same note, and stopped abruptly…I prayed, as Pushkin once did, ‘Please God, may I not go mad! Rather grant me prison, poverty, or death.’ The first sign of approaching madness must surely be the urge to scream like that on a single continuous note. I must conquer it and preserve the balance of my mind by giving it something to do. So I began again to recite verses to myself. I composed more of my own and said them over and over so as not to forget them, and above all not to hear that awful cry.”

One great story has Ginzburg entertaining the transport train with her recitals from memory. Unfortunately, one of the guards heard her and believed they had a contraband book hidden. The guard furiously demands they hand it over and the women can’t convince him – until Ginzburg ends up reciting the whole Eugene Onegin from memory for him. “As I went on reciting, I kept my eyes fixed on the two guards. The Brigand at first wore a threatening expression: she’d get stuck in a minute, and then he’d show her! This gave place by degrees to astonishment, almost friendly curiosity, and finally ill-concealed delight.”

Well-written, powerful and very readable – next need to get the second half of her memoir. ( )
6 vote DieFledermaus | Jul 13, 2013 |
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The year 1937 began, to all intents and purposes, at the end of 1934--to be exact, on the first of December.
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"Journey/Into the Whirlwind" is a different work from "Within the Whirlwind" - they are the first and second parts of a memoir, respectively. Do not combine.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156027518, Paperback)

Eugenia Ginzburg's critically acclaimed memoir of the harrowing eighteen years she spent in prisons and labor camps under Stalin's rule


By the late 1930s, Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg had been a loyal and very active member of the Communist Party for many years. Yet like millions of others who suffered during Stalin's reign of terror, she was arrested—on trumped-up charges of being a Trotskyist terrorist and counter-revolutionary—and sentenced to prison. With an amazing eye for detail, profound strength, and an indefatigable spirit, Ginzburg recounts the years, days, and minutes she endured in prisons and labor camps, including two years of solitary confinement. A classic account of survival, Journey into the Whirlwind is considered one of the most important documents of Stalin's regime.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:55 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Both witness to and victim of Stalin's reign of terror, a courageous woman tells the story of her harrowing eighteen-year odyssey through Russia's prisons and labor camps. Translated by Paul Stevenson and Max Hayward. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book

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