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Journey into the Whirlwind by Evgenia…
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Journey into the Whirlwind (1967)

by Evgenia Ginzburg

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5131119,823 (4.18)43
  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
    I Want To Live: The Diary of a Young Girl in Stalin's Russia 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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In her powerful autobiography, INTO THE WHIRLWIND, Eugenia Ginzburg shares her experiences of being arrested in 1937, imprisoned, and eventually sent to do grueling manual labor in a Siberian gulag. She was “officially” convicted as a political terrorist and enemy of the people. Naturally, none of this was true - she was part of Joseph Stalin's "Great Purge" campaign. While her experiences were unbelievably harrowing and heartbreaking, it is her unrelentingly strong spirit that shines through this work.

Ginzburg was a highly educated woman, receiving university training as a teacher, and later heading up the Culture section of a regional Communist Party newspaper called Red Tartary. She was proficient in literature, poetry, and political theory; could understand some German, and read other languages. She was solidly in the Soviet Elite social class, as were most of her acquaintances. This made her, and her family, a prime target for Stalin’s program of intellectual and political repression.

When one of her coworkers, Nikolay Naumovich, was arrested for supposed terrorist activities, she was brought in for interrogation. The violence she experienced in her interrogation was purely verbal and emotional, as the questioners were not permitted to use physical torture until a few months after. During one of her interrogation sessions, she was pressured into writing a statement, one that the secret police could use to discover other “enemies of the state”. She knows that her fate has essentially been sealed, so she decides she has nothing to lose. She tells her questioner that, “Well, you yourself mentioned the kind of writing I do – articles, translations. But I’ve never tried my hand at detective novels, and I doubt if I could do the kind of fiction you want” (pg. 58). She decides that she should at least write something, as the time spent writing would be time without the interrogator’s abuse. So, she spends hours writing a letter to the head of the secret police, explaining the illegality of the case against her and the methods used for the investigation. The questioner verbally abused her for this act, but ultimately could not do anything to harm her. It is this undercurrent of sass and bravery, appearing throughout the work, which endears Ginzburg to the reader. She understands that she is powerless to change her overall situation, but jabs at those in power when she has the opportunity.

Because she refused to denounce her colleague, or to implicate others, she was tried (in a show-court lasting only a few minutes) and convicted of being a co-conspirator. She was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, with a loss of civil rights for 5 years. Instead of feeling dissolute about her situation, she was almost euphoric because it meant that there was the possibility of freedom and life. However, this jubilant spirit is tested throughout the rest of the book, because the conditions she endures are horrific at best.

Ginzburg’s imprisonment is described as being “buried alive for a little over two years” (pg. 146). Ginzburg, as a political prisoner, is kept in almost complete isolation in her cell. Deprived of much light, company, and fresh air, she is afraid of losing language and her sanity, so she quietly recites poetry and other works that she can recall, and reads whatever books she is able to acquire from the prison library. This solace in literature serves her throughout the rest of her time in that prison, with its filthy conditions, meager food rations, brutal guards, and the knowledge that all this was for false charges.

The cruel treatment of the prisoners leads to near-starvation and suffering from a wide variety of malnutrition and constitution sicknesses. After being in the isolation of prison, the author and her fellow prisoners had to adapt to life in a camp where there is a hierarchy based on the crime. As political prisoners, they were treated as the lowest form of inmate, and given the hardest and least desirable tasks. Ginzburg and many of her fellow political prisoners, many of them unaccustomed to heavy manual labor, were expected to fell large trees on very meager rations and terrible living conditions. The author, herself, was close to death on many occasions, and was saved through a kind-hearted camp doctor.

Her experience of the camps, and the treatment of the prisoners, seems eerily similar to the Nazi treatment of prisoners in concentration camps. Although the USSR camps were meant for labor and not necessarily extermination, the incarcerated often died because of the harsh conditions and poor health. The most critical aspect of this novel is that most of the individuals she encounters in the prisons and camps are of similar social class to her. Therefore, the reader gets no perspective of what conditions and treatment were like for people from more impoverished conditions and rural areas. There is also no information about what life was like for non-incarcerated peoples. These criticisms are accurate, but also invalid because the book was written as her own memoirs of this time. INTO THE WHIRLWIND is important because it bears witness to the ways that the USSR treated its citizens during this time in history. In a world where political instability is a real possibility, and human rights are violated regularly, works like this remind us of how dangerous those things can be when unchecked. ( )
  BooksForYears | Nov 29, 2016 |
This is the story of Ginzburg's suffering in Stalin's Russia. Eugenia was a loyal Communist Party member who happened (unknowingly) to work for a "resistor' at a newspaper. Just by association she was pulled from her home at night and her frightful journey begins without benefit of trial or testimony. She will never see her home or son again. Stark stories of torture and deprivation in the labor camps and gulags. She wrote this book in 1953 and had to leave it unfinished as she had to flee, even though Stalin was dead. I believe the newer copies now have an addendum. ( )
  tess_schoolmarm | Jul 30, 2016 |
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 |
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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