More needs to be written and read on the victims and perpetrators of deceit, cultural destruction, famine, enslavement and terror in Stalin’s Soviet Union, even though the literature in English, from Robert Conquest to Catherine Merridale, already fills a substantial bookshelf. The last witnesses are now dying off, and Russia’s archives are once again under the control of the Secret Police and being made less and less accessible to scholars. Inevitably, each new work will overlap previous publications at least with its pages of introduction and background, but we still have not reached the critical mass of discussion which will create an understanding of why Russia is what it is today.
Orlando Figes’s book will find not just a niche but a whole stand in the market-place. As his previous work, particularly Natasha’s Dance, has shown, he has a gift for mastering an enormous canvas and combining excellent draughtsmanship with broad, colourful brushwork to paint a very striking and memorable picture