An Interview with Yuri Slezkine, author of The House of Government.
What is the House of Government?
It is a huge apartment building in central Moscow where most top
members of the Soviet government (People’s Commissars, Red
Army commanders, Marxist scholars, Gulag officials, industrial
managers, foreign communists, socialist-realist writers, Stalin’s
relatives, and many others) lived in the 1930s before being arrested
in the Great Terror.
How is this book different from others about this period in Russian
It tells the story of the Bolshevik Revolution through the family histories
of prominent revolutionaries, from their conversion to Communism
as adolescents to their children’s loss of faith in the aftermath
of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech.
What’s the most controversial claim you make?
I argue that the Bolsheviks were apocalyptic sectarians who expected
the end of the world in their lifetimes, confronted the failure of the
prophecy in the privacy of their apartments, failed to raise their children
as future Communists, and were, at the time of their trials, guilty
of betraying the cause.
Why do you call it a saga?
Because it is a historical epic with multiple characters, motifs, and
planes of reality intersecting and coexisting in time (and stretching
over the lives of several generations). It is a work of history, but it is
structured as a novel.
Who is your favorite “character”?
Nikolai Bukharin is hard to resist as he slowly thinks himself to
death, but my particular favorites are Tania Miagkova, who, in her
letters from prison, tries to reconcile her devotion to the Party with
her love for her husband, mother, and daughter; Agnessa Argiropulo,
who may or may not suspect that the love of her life is one of the
most prolific executioners in Russian history; Lyova Fedotov, a boy
who, on the night train to Leningrad, dreams of conducting Aida;
and Yuri Trifonov, Fedotov’s friend, who grows up to become the
revolution’s heir and chronicler
How do you want readers to read your book?
From beginning to end. The characters who move out for a while will
come back to haunt the reader, sooner or later.
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File created: 4/1/17