Book #13: Journey into the Whirlwind

Title: Journey into the Whirlwind
Author: Eugenia Ginzburg
Publisher: Harvest Books (Harcourt, Inc)
Publication Date: November 4, 2002 (Originally published in 1967)
Page Count: 418
Genre: Non-Fiction, Autobiography/Memoir
Why: Recommended by Kinneret @ kinneretstern 
Quote(s): après moi le déluge (actually supposed to be after this book the flood):
1. “As I lay awake on my plank bed, the most unorthodox thoughts passed through my mind- about how thin the line is between high principles and blinkered intolerance, and also how relative are all human systems and ideologies and how absolute the tortures which human beings inflict on one another.”
2. “Vasya had once asked me: ‘Mother, what’s the fiercest of all animals?’ Fool that I was! Why didn’t I tell him the ‘fiercest’ was man- of all animals the one to beware of most.”
3. “The only way to overcome it was to tell myself at every hour of the day that those who did these things were not human beings. After all, I would not have felt insulted if a monkey or a pic had scrabbled in my hair, looking for ‘substantive evidence of my crimes’.”
4. “I did not wish to scream or struggle… Now I think that, in Germany too, no doubt, they got used to the gallows and the gas chamber. People can get used to anything.”
5. “Well, I can’t tell lies….”
“Then you’d better learn, hadn’t you?”
“These words on the lips of a young, apple-cheeked girl struck me as yet another consequence of the Great Lunacy.”
6. “It was almost like a scene out of Dickens: an angel, in the midst of evildoers, saving my life. But there were times when I saw a look of sadness coming into her clear blue eyes; at such moments I suspected that it was not so much a Dickens as a Dostoyevsky situation, with Angelina seeking to expiate the crimes of a husband whom she loved…”
7. “No luck today, my lady Death! Till our next merry meeting!” – Selvinsky
8. “On the march back, mumbers of them had died like- I was going to say like flies, but at Kolyma it was truer to say that flies died like people.”
New words: encephalitis, sepulcher, pleurisy, fetid, stevedore, convalescent, vagary, sententious, reveille, bromide, torpor
Friend(s) who would enjoy this book:  Grab The Lapels and From Here to There this is for you. Also Building Diverse Bookshelves, Lectito, and Rohini.
Song(s) in the soundtrack of this book:
1. Seven Nation Army, The White Stripes (A bit too “rocky” but..)
2. The Killing Moon, Echo and the Bunnymen (for the Lady Death)
3. Tomorrow, Annie (the Broadway)
4. Talking in Code, Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (for solitary confinement)

The Review

I have never read a book that captured both absolute human cruelty and human compassion so well. Ginzburg’s memoir is so unforgettable, and recounted so precisely with such honesty that it is not only a critical record of a disastrous time, but a true triumph of human strength.

Eugenia (Yevgenia) Solomonovna Ginzburg (1904-1977), a Russian author and teacher, was falsely accused of being part of a “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist group” in 1937 at the time of the Stalinist purges. She continued to deny accusations made by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police), but was sentenced to 10 years prison (solitary confinement and labor camps). She survived an 18 year sentence in the Gulag, and later wrote Journey into the Whirlwind, recounting her experiences over this period.

In a time when the news is constantly filled with atrocities committed by ruthless terrorist groups, governments that barrel bomb their own people, and refugees that undertake treacherous journeys only to be turned away by possible safe havens, it is critical to remember that we are all humans and compassion is key. Ginzburg broadcasts these messages plainly in Journey into the Whirlwind. A major theme in the book is that human suffering breaks boundaries. No matter what place, party, or faction you are from, suffering unites us all. And because of this it is our duty as human beings (not as Americans or English or whatever nationality you happen to be) to help, and try to understand the plight of others.

Ginzburg’s honesty with the reader, and ability to recount her experiences in such detail, is what makes this book so phenomenal. Passages are written in such vivid detail, that I had to keep pinching myself and reminding myself that this was not some horrible dystopian fiction, that it was, in fact, very real. Ginzburg recounts names, faces, and conditions with astounding precision and description. People passed in and out of her life very quickly, but each person had an important role to play, and you are filled with a desire to find out what happened to each of these individuals at the end of the book. It is a strong reminder of how so many good people at the end of this barbarity were lost or missing.

The courage, bravery, resilience, and inherent altruism of Ginzburg and the women she befriended was legendary. Each of these women proved to be a true, real-life heroine in a time when most of us would cower in fear. The positivity and lack of self-pity found in this book was astonishing. There was a sense of unwavering optimism in this story that just propels the reader to keep reading, and makes each of the women (and a couple of men) a true inspiration. This paragraph exemplifies the good spirit found in the book:

This is what was to happen to the splendid green eyes of the clever and elegant Nina Gviniashvili, who had been an actress. At the Kolyma collective farm of Elgen, where some thick branches got into the silage cutter, the cutter got out of control, as it was in the habit of doing, and a tough, thorny piece whipped out Nina’s right eye…. When Pava Samoylova and I went to the camp infirmary in order to take her some sugar, and sat at her bedside, so upset we could say nothing, she stroked Pava’s hand and said: “Don’t worry, girls- one eye is quite enough for looking at a life like ours.”

The sense of surprise in the book almost aligns Ginzburg with the reader’s perspective. Ginzburg maintains a sense of awe throughout the book that the events that took place actually happened, which completely parallels the reader’s thoughts. It is so hard to believe that thousands of loyal party members were arrested on false charges and that millions of people died at the hands of one paranoid man.

It would be foolish and moronic to call Ginzburg a victim of the purges, she is a survivor in every sense of the word. I hope that she found peace in her last years- I feel that she did from her book and the epilogue. And to every man and woman that went unidentified or missing (the deaf cook, Julia), you are an inspiration to us all, and I will never forget you.


16 thoughts on “Book #13: Journey into the Whirlwind

Add yours

    1. Thank you! Russian history and culture is VERY interesting… my European History teacher made the remark that the Russians get stuck with the worse governments but the people themselves always seem to endure. That spirit is really reflected in this memoir 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I just finished Between Shades of Grey as a reread for a book club- this goes perfectly with it. (It is also a story of Stalin and what he did to “cleanse” the Soviet Union) The fact that this is an actual memoir makes it all the more powerful- I’ll definitely have to check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You won’t even believe what happened today! In my European History class we just finished the Bolshevik Revolution, and are about to go on to Stalin’s Regime. My teacher mentioned that we should all watch the film Child 44 and read the book, and I couldn’t believe it! Heard it from you first 🙂 Made my day!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this book over the summer, and loved it. If anyone is interested in other books regarding Stalin’s purges, I would also read The Endless Steppe. I remember reading it years ago, and enjoying it. However, Journey into The Whirlwind was so fantastic, I loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

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