Intimacy and Terror
Because of the diversity of the nine diaries included in this book, it cannot be summarized. One of the most enlightening chapters treats the year 1937 by juxtaposition of entries for the same day from the newspaper IZVESTIYA and the diary of a marginally literate collective farmer, Ignat Frolov. While the Communist Party organ describes such events as the Second Moscow Trial (“Trial of the Seventeen”) which was attended by American and French ambassadors, closely followed in the foreign press and resulted in thirteen death sentences, Frolov is concerned only with the weather and hauling manure from the stable to the cabbage patch. Indeed, day after day and month after month concerns remain the same: the weather foremost, planting, harvesting and inconsequential daily events in the collective. The diary of a Russian peasant living hundreds of years earlier would have been much the same. While Frolov and some of the diarists are oblivious to the terror of the purges, others are acutely aware and are prescient in their realizations of the failures of Stalin’s repressive regime. The acuity of the observers is often determined by their education, position, and proximity to power.
The editors have been judicious in their selection of contrasting accounts. Nevertheless, good intentions sometimes unnecessarily distract the reader. In their desire to be authentic, for example, they retain the grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors of their sometimes semi-literate diarists. The editors’ slavish adherence to originality in the diary of the seaman Fyodor Shirnov makes its reading so slow and laborious that this reader lost interest. Thus, although INTIMACY AND TERROR provides an unprecedented, intimate view of daily life in pre-war Stalinist Russia, its readership will probably be limited to a scholarly audience.