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Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia Hardcover – April 2, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Russia's story of death has been obscured so often," explains Merridale (Perestroika: The Historical Perspective; Moscow Politics and the Rise of Stalin). The extraordinary scale of the violence and loss in modern Russian history has been shrouded in secrecy; indeed, the government has only recently acknowledged the hundreds of thousands killed under Stalin. "For 50 years," Merridale writes, "until the fall of Communism, families had kept bereavement of this kind to themselves.... It was dangerous, after all, to mourn the passing of an enemy of the people." Paying particular attention to the ways that Orthodox religion and Soviet atheism have affected Russian bereavement, Merridale explores Russian perceptions of death and afterlife from before the Bolshevik Revolution, through both world wars and the great famines of the 1930s and into the present. Her fascinating study is based on intimate conversations with bereaved Russians, as well as interviews with gravediggers, funeral directors, social workers, doctors and priests, and meticulous readings of imperial archives, Soviet propaganda, letters, memoirs, literature and government documents. (As Merridale points out, much of this research would have been impossible 20 years ago.) Merridale scrupulously avoids imposing her own ideological or cultural prejudices on her subject. By turns solemn and grisly, empathetic and scholarly, this inspired work provides a unique window on Soviet history through the brutality, ceremony and silences of death.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Merridale (history, Univ. of Bristol), the author of Moscow Politics and the Rise of Stalin: The Communist Party in the Capital, 1925-32 (1990) and Perestroika: The Historical Perspective (1991), offers a history of the Soviet Union from the perspective of the Russian view of death. The plodding beginning (a 30-page foreword) gives way to insightful historical perspective. This work is in line with recent histories by Gregory Freeze (Russia: A History, LJ 5/1/98), Martin Malia (Russia Under Western Eyes, LJ 2/1/99), and Robert Service (A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, LJ 3/1/98)) but adds new information about the purges of the Thirties and Forties, the liquidation of the Kulaks, and more contemporary pogroms and ethnic cleansings of Chechnia. Chapter 4, "Transforming Fire," begins to set this book apart from earlier works of Sovietologists; its treatment of the USSR funeral industry during the Twenties and Thirties is, in my reading, unique. Merridale's reason for writing is to help comprehend the feelings and actions of the present day. "Confusions about loyalty help to explain why it is that some people still remain within the grip of memories that torment them. They were not happy in the past, but they cannot approve of the present either." Recommended for academic libraries. Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (April 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670894745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670894741
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #963,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By pnotley@hotmail.com on August 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a book that is painful to read, but what it deals with is far more important than the reader's discomfort. This is a book that deals with Russia's experience of death. But of course, what it deals with is the Russian experience with terror and mass murder. Starting off with the rather depresssing and miserable Tsarist state, Russians descended first into the inferno of the first world war, then into the massacres, famine, diseases and cannibalism of the revolutionary civil war. After a bit of a breather, it would then descend into the brutality and famines of collectivization and famine, then the purges and the Gulag, into the final frozen wastelands of the second world war. The climb up Mount Purgatory has been a slow one, and there is no guarantee that anyone will reach the garden at the top where virtuous pagans can go no further. Merridale brings a number of virtues to this account. First, she has read widely and taken care to read the most recent literature (the separate totals of collectivization, famine, purge and gulag have seven digits, not eight). Moreover she has a fine eye for detail. Some are fascinating, such as the fact that Stalin's son spent his infant years in a special nursery designed to be run on Freudian principles. We read stories of the grotesque shortage of graves in 1919 Leningrad, and the pathetically unsuccessful attempts to build a crematorium to deal with the corpses. As an example of Soviet kitsch, we read of popular (and rather tasteless) suggestions for a pantheon in Stalin's memory.Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Donal A. O'Neill on October 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is the most moving and memorable book I've read for many years. The scope is breath-taking, no less than an investigation of the Russian attitude to death, and ways of coping with it, from the late Czarist times to the present day. Given Russia's ghastly 20th century history the story is a terrible one and at many places in the book one has to pause, quite overcome by pity and emotion. Horror is piled on horror, though never for the sake of shock, yet the overriding feeling on finishing the book is of amazement at the resilience and nobility of the human spirit. The countless instances of cruelty, misery and waste, on a scale incomprehensible in a Western country, are matched by an even greater number of cases of endurance and triumph, if not physical, then spiritual. The overriding impression is of hell let loose on earth, not once, not transiently, but repeatedly, sustainedly, of millions dying, suffering and degraded in the process and yet of the survivors maintaining humanity, generosity and hope. Stupidity, prejudice and bull-headed arrogance all play their role in the story but more terrifying still is the sense of conscious, deliberate distancing from all human compassion that underlay so many of the man-made tragedies described. It is inappropriate to say that anyone will enjoy reading this wonderful book but they will be thrilled, moved and possibly changed by it. Other than by Zoë Oldenbourg's unforgettable novel "Destiny of Fire" I have never been so disturbed and challenged by a single book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kimberley Mitchell on July 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The history of 20th century Russia has led from one death-dealing regime to another, but always with a severe penalty attached to telling the truth about the repression and the people who've died.
Catherine Merridale's book tells the stories which before could not be told. She investigates original documents, footnotes profusely, and interviews survivors.
The stories are each unique, and in the absence of communal review, do not form a cohesive unified tale. This in itself may be the most poignant feature of this book, not only the courage and stoicism with which these sturdy people denied past atrocities and went on with their lives, but the profound silence of the denial.
It is a grim story, but a true one, and it deserves to be heard. In the face of repressions on this scale, it is easier to put the petty deceipts and injustices of our own time and place into some kind of perspective.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By HistoryBuff on November 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
What an incredible book, and also necessary. Merridale puts so much emotion into her work, and one cannot help but feel incredible sorrow and sympathy for the poor peasants in communist Russia. These stories are essential for us to know, and hopefully suffering of this magnitude will never happen again. Recommended for everyone, as Merridale's style is easy to read and hard to put down. What makes Merridale's book so unique is her combination of history and psychology. She indicates the importance of national recognition of tragedies as a way to help the people heal. Also, she points to the many inefficiencies of communist Russia that most people probably never imagined. Her descriptions of the crematoriums is especially chilling. Worth every penny.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "ijnl" on July 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I cannot compete with the detailed description of one of the earlier reviewers. My own opinion of the book is more impressionistic, which is, I remember details from the different sections, but felt that the big picture is lacking. Ultimately, I could not finish the book and gave it to my husband, who could not finish it either. The author clearly did extensive research for this work and it shows in the careful crafting of scenes in the different eras. I was particularly impressed by the description of the superstitious Orthodox priests at the turn of the prior century and their constant presence in the lives of their parishioners. The descriptions of burial rites, both religious and civil did illuminate one part of the Russian/Soviet/Russian nightmare but, ultimately, I felt that the narrative lacked continuity. It assumed too much about the reader's knowlege of the century covered. I wondered whether the separate chapters had been published as magazine articles. The whole seemed less than the sum of the parts.
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