The House of Government is familiar to many Russians (and some foreigners) as the House on the Embankment, a vast building on an island facing the Kremlin, where from the 1930s to the end of the Soviet era around seven hundred government ministers and important officials lived in ostentatious luxury (the building has since been privatised). The House on the Embankment is the title of a semi-autobiographical novella by Yuri Trifonov, who grew up there in the 1930s and reflected deeply, albeit with some sentimentality, on the often grim fates of the building’s leaseholders. By a miracle or an oversight of the censors, Trifonov’s novella was published in 1976. Although Soviet libraries refused to issue readers with the journal in which it was printed, the work became a sensation with the Moscow public.
In The House of Government, Yuri Slezkine deals at length with Trifonov, his novella and his father, Valentin, a Red Army commissar who was shot in March 1938. He also investigates the lives of some eighty other inhabitants of the building. Many of the tenants were arrested in the