Intimacy and Terror

Soviet Diaries of the 1930s

The private diary accounts of daily life in Russia at the height of Stalinism

Intimacy and Terror is filled with everything exiled from the utopias of socialist realism—private misery, defeat, fear, and compromises with intractable reality.” —The Nation

The result of a unique international collaborative investigation by Russian, French, and Swiss scholars into hundreds of private, unpublished diaries found in remote libraries, archives, and family holdings, Intimacy and Terror paints a broad picture of Russian life during the harshest years of Stalin’s reign. The ten diaries reveal the day-to-day thoughts of ordinary citizens, some far removed from political turmoil, some closely enmeshed. Together they paint an extraordinarily broad portrait of Russian life in the thirties; their insights into the daily life of that time have astonished even the Russian historians who read the original manuscripts. The diarists range from the ambitious literary bureaucrat who moves forward by denouncing his colleagues to the young unlettered careerist learning the ways of Soviet success; from the wife of a government bureaucrat, who writes in a pure Stalinist prose, to the candid thoughts and uncertainties of a dissident; from a provincial sailor on a distant Arctic vessel to Moscow intellectuals who meet and recount their conversations with Anna Akhmatova. Some of the diarists are wholly oblivious to the terrors of Stalin's purges; others see the failures of the regime as clearly as those writing today.

To set the diaries in context, the book begins with a “Chronicle of the Year 1937”—an extraordinary montage comprised of excerpts from the daily newspaper Izvestiya juxtaposed with corresponding entries from am collective farmer’s diary—and also includes a chronology of major events in the Soviet Union during the latter half of the decade. The diaries bring us the true-life counterparts of characters we remember from classic Russian literature. Intimacy and Terror provides an unprecedented, intimate view of daily life in Russia at the height of Stalinism.


“Soviet history in a new key. . . A rare and extraordinary portrait of Soviet society in a critical decade, comprising fear, bravery, bathos, tragedy, and even humor—in sum, the broad range of human responses to inhumanity.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Compelling and fascinating. . . The title of this book cannot accurately convey its cumulative power.”
Boston Book Review
“Eloquent. . . . An impressive collection of personal diaries written in the Soviet Union during the harshest years of Joseph Stalin's rule.”
Wilson Quarterly

Goodreads Reviews