PositiveThe Independent... grim and unrelenting, an enlightening but difficult read. If the contemplation of evil, on its own, could make us better human beings, this book would be an excellent investment ... one of the most vivid histories we have of a system – \'the meat grinder\', Russians called it – that marked or destroyed the lives of millions ... readers in Britain and America should beware. Neither they, nor I, nor Applebaum, are victims or survivors in this tale. Our place is not among the righteous, complacent as the winners of Cold War, and nor is it to be found in a clean, bright space where ideology is dead. The debates about freedom, justice and inequality rage on. The Gulag has gone, but individual responsibility for collective and ideologically driven excess, whether it be racist slaughter, imprisonment without trial, or abominations like Death Row, begins at home.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWith scrupulous respect for the service these women gave, Ms. Alexievich identifies each by specialism and rank. But she imposes neither pattern nor hierarchy ... The unique style that won [the Nobel] prize is on display throughout this book. Ms. Alexievich’s gentle, open-hearted writing is perfect for conveying shattered memories and tortured lives. But it creates a hypnotic trance of its own, and we should not overlook its problems. Confabulation is one of these. By giving credit to each testimony—her approach leaves little choice—the author denies us the opportunity to ask wider questions ... Ms. Alexievich’s war book is shattering, then, but besides a touch of rose-tint it is patently nostalgic. The mood will draw all readers in, hypnotized by the vanished world.
MixedThe Financial TimesHis true aim is to dish the Marxists, by which he means almost every social historian of Russia who has written since the 1970s. His hero is that cold war stalwart, Richard Pipes. The pace is fast; the book is half the length of Pipes’ 1990 work ... He is good on the diplomatic danse macabre that drew the tsarist empire into Balkan and then central European military politics, amusing on court scandals, predictable on the murder of Rasputin, who had warned the tsar against all armed adventures in Europe. But it is when he reaches the revolutionary year itself that the rabbits start appearing from his academic hat ... the idea that the revolution was an accident defies belief. For one thing, there is no question about the depth of popular misery on the eve of that historic 'break in the weather' ... In writing his fast-moving revisionist romp, McMeekin has listened mainly to the losers in the Russian case, and like the displaced everywhere they did not see the tidal swell till far too late.