Paperbacks: The Whisperers, by Orlando Figes

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The Independent Culture

Orlando Figes's masterpiece shows, in deeply researched but near-novelistic detail, the toll that Stalin's tyranny took on Soviet private life. Drawing on 400-plus interviews by Russia's taboo-breaking Memorial Society, enriched by records of all types, a heart-rending panorama of fear, shame and loss takes shape.

Over 30 years, the repression of 25 millions – from sacking through years in the Gulag to execution – almost killed a nation's soul. One common theme is the internalisation of official "guilt". These innocents, many of them Party stalwarts and their families, came to blame themselves. Kept from spouses and children, the toxic secrets of a "spoilt biography" poisoned home and society alike.