Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
A Telephone Call at Dawn
The year 1937 actually begins on December 1, 1934, when, at four o’clock in the morning, the telephone rings. Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg answers it. Her husband, Pavel Vasilyevich Aksyonov (a prominent leader of the Tartar Province Committee of the Party), is away on business and her children are sleeping peacefully in the next room.
The voice on the other end of the line summons her, as a member of the Party, to appear at the regional committee office at in two hours. She asks a question but the line is already dead; it is obvious that there is “some sort of serious trouble.”
Ginzburg leaves without waking anyone and walks through the dark, snow-covered streets. She reflects on her loyalty to the Party and her willingness to die for it, “not once but three times.” The only point on which she defers from the current, fashionable Party thinking is its reverence for Stalin; however, she keeps her “vague disquiet about him” to herself.
About forty of her fellow teachers, all Communists, have arrived before her. Lepa, the regional committee secretary, solemnly announces that Sergey Mironovich Kirov, a high-ranking Communist official, has been murdered. Lepa assigns the gathered members to address the workers at various factories, delivering the available news, which is not much.
Ginzburg conscientiously does what she is asked and speaks to workers at a textile mill, but her mind is full of thoughts. Back at the committee building, she sips tea in silence with Yestafyev, a fellow Party member. After a time, Yestafyev glances over his shoulder before leaning toward Ginzburg and, in a strange voice, tells her that Kirov’s murderer was a Communist. The words fill her with a “terrible foreboding of misfortune.”