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The House of Government

A Saga of the Russian Revolution
Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
Length: 45 hrs and 9 mins
Categories: History, Europe
4.4 out of 5 stars (37 ratings)

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Summary

On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the epic story of an enormous apartment building where Communist true believers lived before their destruction.

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 505 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 800 of them were evicted from the house and led, one by one, to prison or their deaths.

Drawing on letters, diaries, and interviews, 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.

©2017 Yuri Slezkine (P)2017 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about The House of Government

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Well researched but lacks structure or narrative

This is an extremely well researched book about living during the Russian revolution, and it includes hundreds of overlapping stories, following citizens from the start of the Russian revolution on. But unless you are already well-versed with the subject matter, this book remains opaque and shapeless, as the narrator does not take very much time to outline events or explain the reasoning behind what is included, or to draw conclusions from the primary material collected here. The author jumps from theory to theory – the main thesis being a reading of the Russian revolution as a modern millenarian cult – and while this starts strong, no simple narrative of the revolution is developed on which to hang these theories. Large events, like the details of the revolution itself, are skimmed over or in some places skipped altogether, in favour of detailed extracts from letters, plays, novels et cetera. The book has a funny structure in which about a third is a series of excerpts from poems, plays and novels of the time – interesting as a way of giving flavour to the events, but I think they would make much more sense in text, where you could skim over them, or at least easily distinguish between what is quotation and what the narrator. There is so much reading of these extracts from primary material that it becomes easy to lose any sense of authorial intention at all – once, about 11 hours into the book, the author reaches the house of government itself, the narrative plunges into several hours of letters between various inhabitants complaining about one another, asking for holiday time or funds for new coats, et cetera – all of which is laudable research but there is no serious effort to shape it into an overall narrative, or to draw strong conclusions about what this primary material adds up to. It's more showing you first-hand what life is like in this situation than a description. In short this felt more to me like a scholastic exercise than a non-fiction work for a lay reader. Unless you already know the main players and history of the revolution intimately, and are eager for substantial primary material about the day to day lives of those involved, you may not enjoy this book.

9 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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It's like listening to an encyclopedia!

This is a massive tome - I took one look at the physical book and immediately plumped for the Audible version! The book presents Soviet Russia through the lens of the House of Government - Boris Iofan's housing block built in the 20s for Soviet mid-ranking high-ups. It was particularly ravaged in the Terror, roughly the period 1934-7. But on Audible it is still a whopper of a book and there is not really a driving narrative. At 46hrs it did take me over a month to get through. It is like listening to a series of interesting articles a format that does give it a bit of a put-downable quality. I also think the physical book / e-book version has quite a few photos in - of people and places - which I think would have helped me navigate around the mass of information. Overall, It can be bitty, episodic, and confusing (some effort is required to piece together an overall narrative). But, it's all in there somewhere and I can genuinely say that I learned a lot! I learned about various Soviet ideas on architecture, work (lots of it), marriage (sounds chaotic!), business networking, literature (a big theme in the book), individual ambitions, collect loyalties, childhood hobbies - not to mention the biographical details of a number of residents of the House of Government. The author would list the names here - there's a lot of listing in there. The stand out bit, for me, was the sections on Soviet emotions and attitudes. The residents seemed genuinely invested in the Soviet system, even as it turned against so many of the residents in the House of Government. The author explains the excitement and shows what the Soviet system gave its people. The lives of some of the children are followed - from their enthusiasms, friendships and ambitions to their later lives of privilege or most often suffering, orphanhood and Gulag. But even here they are loyal and in the kind treatment many received in dire conditions that loyalty was rewarded. This was really touching. I am really pleased I read/heard all this because it was different enough from other books I had read on the subject. I got a more rounded sense of what life might have felt like and why. I imagine if I listen back again I will notice more things and get even more out of it. But i will have to build up my stamina reserves first!

1 person found this helpful

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Perfect story perfectly ruined (for me)

I am only 3 chapters into the book, but the story is totally captivating, and I am looking forward to the rest of it. But I am also returning this audio version and buying the physical book instead. I am quite used to certain 'Anglicizing' of Russian proper names, but I was not remotely prepared to the total butchering of Russian toponyms, last names, and even first names (!) as delivered by this narrator. Half the names are barely recognizable (and I am familiar with virtually all characters), even stress is often on the wrong syllable. May not be such a big deal for some, as long as they can still follow the story.

1 person found this helpful

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Remarkable

Absolutely tremendous book. so wide ranging that probably impossible to agree with everything. However, I think this is a must.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Edward V. Blanchard
  • 05-11-17

Inside saga of the leaders of Bolshevism & the USSR

What a generous & magisterial book! Basically the story of a wide group of leaders, intellectuals & senior bureaucrats and their families, most of whom lived at one time or other in the House of Govt. From the pre-revolutionary backgrounds thru the Oct Revolution, building the new Communist state, collectivization, the 5 year plans, the Great Terror & then the Great Patriotic War. This is s deep social, cultural & intellectual history of how a Bolshevik sect became the state religion of a great country, but it reads more like Tolstoy of “War & Peace”! Lots of Russian names & families to keep track of. Long, but fascinating, subtle, generous & sympathetic, but never “rose tinted”. Most highly recommended! Reader was easy to listen to, with the right balance of seriousness (& occasionally, irony).

15 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mark
  • 23-11-17

Haunting tour of the temple of the failed deity

Engrossing relatable stories, often in their own words, of the thinkers who envisioned the Soviet state. Story after story illuminate the theories and ideals that led to the tragedy that followed.

11 people found this helpful

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  • TheWatchmaker
  • 12-12-17

fantastic portrait of the Soviet revolution

a masterpiece. sweeping and grand in scope. a must read for students of Russian/Soviet history.

3 people found this helpful

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  • brian
  • 07-09-17

An ultimate history.

Would you listen to The House of Government again? Why?

I would.

What did you like best about this story?

The history it presented, some of which I hadn't heard of.

Which character – as performed by Stefan Rudnicki – was your favorite?

All of them, not bad for a narrator I hadn't heard of before.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The fates of some of Stalin's "enemies" made me cry, Bukharin's especially.

Any additional comments?

/A must-have for fans of Soviet history.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Elocutus55
  • 23-06-19

For the history fan...

Those who are interested in The history of the roots of Soviet Bolshevism, this is an expansive and fascinating look at the dynamics of the Soviet Union’s origins and development. Using the ambitious building of “The House of Government” building in Moscow as a lens, the author weaves social and biographical details into a terrific story.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Fiona Chalom
  • 29-04-19

Amazing

The author is encyclopedic in the research, truly amazing. The narrator is wonderful and his voice is mesmerizing. I highly recommend this book, as I would not have read it as it is so long but listening made it compelling and fascinating.

2 people found this helpful

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  • T. Anderson
  • 15-09-17

A people's history of the Soviet Union.

I've been reading historical and biographical books on the Soviet Union since I became aware that there was such a thing as history, more than 45 years ago. Nothing I have ever read comes close to painting the day to day struggle of the Soviet people to not only survive but to avoid being exterminated or sent to dissappear in the Gulag.

Disturbingly, the author points out unmistakable simalarities in Western countries that while not as extreme as in the Soviet world, nevertheless destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of "free" and completely innocent people. A tale that should never cease to be told and most importantly, remembered.

9 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • JP
  • 26-10-17

Interminable

I love learning about/reading about all things Russia, including the period of the early 20th century. I gave this book a good 8 hours to get enjoyable and I just don’t have the patience for the 30+ remaining hours. Incoherent and not enjoyable.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Jose
  • 25-09-20

This is a Perfect -5

This is a book that is great for 45 hours. Really, good for that long and makes you want more. This is a great author and historian. This writer has the quality of Montefiore and the fluid story telling of Leo Tolstoy. Mr Slezkine would probably not accept my complements, but he is not just good, he is incredibly good. The stories intertwine and captivate. The saga wraps you around history, people, and ideas in a deep and meaningful way. It humanizes the motivations of Marxist Ghouls that murdered millions of people but covers their complex motivations. Worth a read.

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  • Michael in Boston
  • 19-05-20

Incredible detail and vivid

I highly recommend this audiobook and do not be discouraged by the length of the book! Congratulations to the performer of the text as the pronunciation of many proper names and foreign words was excellent! Often I find many history audiobooks on Eastern Europe and Russia do not verify pronunciation. It makes the listening much easier. In terms of content, what an incredibly detailed book! Highly recommended for anyone who wants a better understanding of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union from 1917 through the post-Stalin era. You get to understand people as people and not just names, dates, and political titles. You will follow families across generations and be genuinely touched to learn of their sufferings and endurance. I appreciate the sociological and religious schema employed to better situation ideology of the Soviet Union alongside other movements in the world, from Russian Old Believers to Reformation Central Europe to the Satanic Panic in the US and Canada in the 1980s. It is a very interesting lens to view the show trials of the 1930s. I am not sure if I am entirely convinced by the arguments but I think it helps to shed light on the mentalities of people who lived through that point in time before the Great Terror and the Secret Speech. The book is very detailed and you will learn a lot. Some background is required but I don’t think too much. The only area where I am still confused is understanding the left and right deviations from just before Lenin’s death right to the Bukharin trial. I think I will need to go back and make some timelines and understand more how figures like Zinovyev and Bukharin end up targeted for show trials. As the book is quite long, there are some repetitious elements, usually in explaining points of commonality and divergence between Christianity, Judaism, and Bolshevik ideology. Also some excerpts from novels or diary entries are repeated in different chapters. As an audiobook it is harder to skip as you might when reading a printed book, but it does mean that if you want to consult a chapter or two in isolation, you will not be at much disadvantage versus reading or listening to the whole book. So once again: incredibly happy I purchased and listened to this audiobook. Quality of performance is best in class. Content is detailed and relevant and the arguments advanced provide insights and connections to other episodes in history not often provided in standard histories of the subject. As such, this is a great resource for developing deeper understanding of this historical time period. 100% recommend it to anyone who likes history.