The House of Government
The House of Government is unlike any other book about the Russian Revolution and the Soviet experiment. Written in the tradition of Tolstoy's War and Peace, Grossman's Life and Fate, and Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, Yuri Slezkine's gripping narrative tells the true story of the residents of an enormous Moscow apartment building where top Communist officials and their families lived before they were destroyed in Stalin's purges. A vivid account of the personal and public lives of Bolshevik true believers, the book begins with their conversion to Communism and ends with their children's loss of faith and the fall of the Soviet Union.Completed in 1931, the House of Government, later known as the House on the Embankment, was located across the Moscow River from the Kremlin. The largest residential building in Europe, it combined 550 furnished apartments with public spaces that included everything from a movie theater and a library to a tennis court and a shooting range. Slezkine tells the chilling story of how the building's residents lived in their apartments and ruled the Soviet state until some eight hundred of them were evicted from the House and led, one by one, to prison or their deaths.Drawing on letters, diaries, and interviews, and featuring hundreds of rare photographs, The House of Government weaves together biography, literary criticism, architectural history, and fascinating new theories of revolutions, millennial prophecies, and reigns of terror. The result is an unforgettable human saga of a building that, like the Soviet Union itself, became a haunted house, forever disturbed by the ghosts of the disappeared.

The House of Government Details

TitleThe House of Government
Author
ReleaseAug 22nd, 2017
PublisherPrinceton University Press
ISBN-139780691176949
Rating
GenreHistory, Cultural, Russia, Nonfiction, Politics

The House of Government Review

  • Lori
    January 1, 1970
    Absolutely stunning. I thought this book was about an apartment building constructed for high Soviet officials (The House of Government), the people who lived there, and their fates during the purges of the 1930's and 40's. But it is so much more than that. This book is not for the faint hearted, or someone looking for a quick read. It is an 1100 page tome, a detailed account of the Russian Revolution led by the Bolsheviks - how it began, the lives and beliefs of the people who ran the revolutio Absolutely stunning. I thought this book was about an apartment building constructed for high Soviet officials (The House of Government), the people who lived there, and their fates during the purges of the 1930's and 40's. But it is so much more than that. This book is not for the faint hearted, or someone looking for a quick read. It is an 1100 page tome, a detailed account of the Russian Revolution led by the Bolsheviks - how it began, the lives and beliefs of the people who ran the revolution, how they lived afterwards, their fates after Stalin came to power, how the Revolution betrayed the common people, and so much more. I admit to struggling through the first sections, with all the background and philosophy and comparisons of communism to various religions, words whirling about my head, when suddenly the intent of those sections would became crystal clear and I would think "aha! that is why this section is here, it led exactly to THIS." So don't give up! Every word is important! This book also shows how Russia itself became a complete metaphysical House of Government in the sense that the Government was everything, the Party was everything, Communism was everything, and they controlled every action and thought of the citizens with an iron hand. I thought the last few chapters were particularly riveting, as they related actual trial testimonies, and the fates of the Old Bolsheviks and their families during the purges and afterwards. Stories of some of the children were particularly heart wrenching. Anyone interested in history in general, or Russian history in particular should read this, along with anyone who really thinks Communism is a good idea. (Although those people tend to always believe they could make it work if they only had the chance.) This is an important book, one of the most enlightening and informative books I have ever read. Many thanks to NetGalley and Princeton University Press for the opportunity to read this exceptional work. I may very well go buy the hardback of this book for future reference.
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  • Biblio Curious
    January 1, 1970
    Originally, I sampled this one from Netgalley, then gave in and pre-ordered it. The beautiful book now rests on my Russian Lit bookshelf.I still haven't officially reviewed it simply because it's a tome that deserves a slow reading. The beginning pages were simply exquisite, the details are profound and resonating. The writing style reminds me of someone trying to recall strong memories of days long past in an attempt they will be preserved. These early chapters describe street scenes and scents Originally, I sampled this one from Netgalley, then gave in and pre-ordered it. The beautiful book now rests on my Russian Lit bookshelf.I still haven't officially reviewed it simply because it's a tome that deserves a slow reading. The beginning pages were simply exquisite, the details are profound and resonating. The writing style reminds me of someone trying to recall strong memories of days long past in an attempt they will be preserved. These early chapters describe street scenes and scents in such detail, I'm sure folks who've actually been here can relate. The chapters are organized chronologically and give an overview of the Bolsheviks house. What I find most intriguing about this is a uni press has published a work of fiction, essentially a novel. What makes it stand out above other novels is it's also trying to be a biography with some historical facts blended in. From what I've gathered, it looks quite successful in this endeavour. I think any fans; casual or academic of Russian History, Biography, Memoir, Literary Fiction could enjoy this work. From a writer's point of view, the writing style is unique blend of fiction, biography or historical fact. Keep in mind, it's 1100 pages, so isn't a light read!Link to my video review showing some features of the bookhttps://youtu.be/9hyvfRfn800
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  • Marks54
    January 1, 1970
    This is a great book that will I am sure come to be seen as a classic. Words like "epic" are thrown around too easily sometimes but are appropriate here. We are rapidly approaching the 100 year anniversary of the October Revolution and this is a fine book to read about it. Yuri Slezkine has written a history of the Russian Revolution focused on the time up until 1941 but also embracing its ultimate failure in the 1990s. The book is on the surface a history of a building - known as the "House of This is a great book that will I am sure come to be seen as a classic. Words like "epic" are thrown around too easily sometimes but are appropriate here. We are rapidly approaching the 100 year anniversary of the October Revolution and this is a fine book to read about it. Yuri Slezkine has written a history of the Russian Revolution focused on the time up until 1941 but also embracing its ultimate failure in the 1990s. The book is on the surface a history of a building - known as the "House of Government" -- that was built to house the key members of the Soviet bureaucracy - or nomenklatura. Slezkine has obtained access to a vast set of biographies, autobiographies, diaries, letters, and the like from many of the residents of the building during its heyday in the 1930s. So in a sense, this is a collective history/ biography of the Soviet bureaucracy from its inception in the 1920s until most of the old Bolsheviks who had not already passed away were purged by Stalin and the NKVD or destroyed in WW2.The above description only provides a hint of the richness of the book. Slezkine really provides several distinct yet interconnected stories about the Russian Revolution, each of which can be taken on its own terms. These stories also combine to provide the overall story of the failure of the grand Soviet experiment.Slezkine treats the Russian Revolution as an example of the success of a millenarian cult that succeeds in taking political power but then fails at the task of institutionalizing the cult and getting it to persist indefinitely into the future. Seen this way, the comparison with the Russian Revolution is the development of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam into established and persisting institutions. The first part of the book establishes this perspective - a perspective that is maintained throughout the rest of this long story.A second line of narrative in the book concerns the nuts and bolts of moving from a small revolutionary core of true believers to the establishment of some bureaucratic order for getting anything done. Related to this are extensive discussions of the Soviet building program in the 1920s and 1930s. It is in this context that the "House of Government" is conceived of and built - representing both the practical needs of housing critical officials and a statement of what these spaces for living and working were supposed to look like under the coming Communist future. This section is fascinating on its own terms and reminded me of Merridale's recent history of the Kremlin. A third aspect of the book, which is spread throughout the text, concerns Soviet literature and culture. How did Soviet artists and writers come to think about their work. What else did they read and what influenced their thinking? Goethe and Cervantes are mentioned a lot. Related to this is how these officials brought up their children and what they read. There is a broad discussion of the demographics of the building - who got apartments there, what were their positions, what were their families like, what was the broader space like in term of parks, theaters, playgrounds, etc. There is some incredible material here and it figures prominently into the rest of the book. For example, one of the paradoxes is that while those who received leases to rooms were strictly controlled and reviewed, the additional people who lived in the apartments was not and could include wives, children, mistresses and their children, as well as more extended family members.The story eventually leads to the period of the purges, the Great Terror, the "knock on the door" in the middle of the night by NKVD agents, the camps in the Gulag, and the executions. This part of the book is especially gripping. The readers gets a range of first person accounts of these encounters. There are also accounts of how those not arrested (yet) and their children coped with this time. There are also extended discussions of how those arrested dealt with their fates as Communist true believers. This is precisely the problem faced by the protagonist in Koestler's Darkness at Noon, but it is presented here in the words of how the actual victims and their families came to grips with it.The grand story is one of a massive family tragedy. It all started out so well - what the heck happened? Slezkine also mines the memoirs and letters of the children of the Old Bolsheviks as they grew to maturity during and after WW2. In tying together this massive story, Slezkine focuses on the question of why the Russian "reformation" last little more than a generation, while Christianity and other great religions have persisted. He provides a convincing but very rich story focused on how the first generation of revolutionaries related to the second and subsequent generations. It turns out that economic class analysis was insufficient to structuring a brand new society. While that may or seem surprising, the details of the spectacular Soviet failure to persist are well worth reading.This is a well written book that is engaging and easy to follow, except that it literally involves a cast of hundreds of characters, many of which pop up throughout the story and are sometimes hard to keep track of without going back and checking. That is OK, I am fairly certain that I will be rereading this book before long.
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  • Beata
    January 1, 1970
    Absolutely stunning piece of non-fiction that is hard to find nowadays. Found it by pure chance and now I believe it to be one of the best books on the revolution. A real jewel!
  • John Plowright
    January 1, 1970
    Some of the most high-profile victims of Stalin’s purges, namely, those who as privileged party members, were accommodated in the House of Government - the huge, forbidding apartment block opened in 1931, on the Moscow River’s embankment - were able, once Khrushchev sanctioned de-Stalinization, to have plaques erected there in memory of their loved ones. Some even sought to have the relevant family apartments converted into museums, as secular shrines to the departed, although Moscow’s housing s Some of the most high-profile victims of Stalin’s purges, namely, those who as privileged party members, were accommodated in the House of Government - the huge, forbidding apartment block opened in 1931, on the Moscow River’s embankment - were able, once Khrushchev sanctioned de-Stalinization, to have plaques erected there in memory of their loved ones. Some even sought to have the relevant family apartments converted into museums, as secular shrines to the departed, although Moscow’s housing shortage, which remains a constant whatever the changes in ideological climate, militated against this outcome. Now, however, in Yuri Slezkine’s ‘The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution’ the families who comprised the Bolshevik elite before the revolution began devouring its children have received a superb literary memorial, which vividly brings them back to life in the mind’s eye of its readers.The transfer of the capital to Moscow justified the creation of a building close to the Kremlin to house the Bolshevik apparatchiks and other worthies but egalitarian Bolshevik ideology could never justify the creation of such luxurious living quarters.Thus in the 550 fully furnished family apartments in the largest residential building in Europe the new Soviet aristocracy enjoyed high ceilings and central heating as standard, whilst also enjoying access to amenities including a hairdressing salon, kindergarten, gymnasium, tennis court, library, laundry, movie theatre, and a cafeteria from which meals could be ordered for collection, at a time when most Muscovites had to make do with dilapidated and overcrowded communal apartments in which the stale smell of cabbage soup competed with the general stench of despair.Slezkine argues that the Bolsheviks were millenarian sectarians who were forced to face the failure of their prophecies in the privacy of their apartments and thus failed to raise their children as future Communists, making them in at least one sense guilty as charged of betraying the cause once brought before Stalin’s prosecutors. The blueprints, bricks and mortar of the House of Government were, however, themselves a standing indictment of the betrayal of the Bolshevik dream. Indeed, Bolshevism itself represents an admission of Marxism’s fundamental flaw – false ‘trade union’ consciousness on the part of the proletarian masses inhibiting their development of a true revolutionary consciousness obliging Lenin to develop an elitist party to seize power in their name; the dictatorship of the proletariat legitimising the dictatorship of the Bolshevik party.Slezkine’s book is a cross between Jung Chang’s ‘Wild Swans’; and Robert Conquest’s ‘The Great Terror’, providing as it does a multi-generational portrait of the lives and loves of a fascinating group of people, roughly one third of whom ultimately found their residency at the Government House to be merely a staging post before the non-person oblivion of either incarceration or liquidation. Slezkine’s book is painstakingly researched and beautifully constructed and written so as to allow him to shed new light on a period of Soviet history with which we might feel ourselves familiar. Not the least of his accomplishments is his managing to chronicle epic events whilst never losing his focus on the human beings affected.
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  • Barry Smirnoff
    January 1, 1970
    A very interesting book that is a group biography of the top personnel of the Communist in Moscow during the years of NEP and Stalin. The evolution and interrelationships of this group are fascinating. The book not an easy read. 1100 pages, small print, and it must weigh 20 pounds, so you are exercising just by holding it. It is amazing that Slezkine could synthesize all this material and remain true to his focus on the ideology and lifestyle of this group. About his theory that Leninism is a mi A very interesting book that is a group biography of the top personnel of the Communist in Moscow during the years of NEP and Stalin. The evolution and interrelationships of this group are fascinating. The book not an easy read. 1100 pages, small print, and it must weigh 20 pounds, so you are exercising just by holding it. It is amazing that Slezkine could synthesize all this material and remain true to his focus on the ideology and lifestyle of this group. About his theory that Leninism is a millennial religion that had to accommodate to reality, I am not convinced.
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