Saturday, August 9, 2008

Journey Into The Whirlwind

For a couple of years now I have frequently recommended a book to anyone who would listen to me. To this day I'm quite sure that nobody I've recommended this book to has actually read it (I cry myself to sleep because of this) so on my blog today I will make one more attempt.

Journey into the Whirlwind is far and away one of the most captivating books I've ever read; it really has changed the way I view a lot of things and gives a really good sense of what Communism and dictatorships can do to society.

Eugenia Ginzburg (or Yevgenia) was born in Russia in 1906 and was a first hand witness to the Bolshevik revolution and birth of the Soviet Union. As an adult she became a writer and journalist and a staunch supporter of the Soviet Communist Party and avid defender of its leaders (Lenin, Stalin, etc.). During the course of the Soviet Union, but most severely in the 1930s, the country began to experience something very similar, yet much more harsh in nature, to what the US saw in the 1950s with the Red Scare when hundreds of people were blacklisted and interrogated for accusations of communist leanings. But in Soviet Russia the accusations were concerning betrayal of the communist party or, for simplicity, capitalist leanings. Yevgenia, although a consistent communist, was accused in 1937 and was promptly torn from her husband and children to spend many many years in brutal prisons under solitary confinement throughout Russia and labor camps in the coldest areas of Siberia. She also had to make the 2+ week trek across Russia to Vladivostok crammed in a horrible train car with dozens of other sick and depressed prisoners. When Yevgenia was released after Stalin's death in the mid-1950s, she secretly wrote this book which was then smuggled abroad so it could be published. The book is a fascinating detailed account of her experiences from the time she was torn from her family, never to see or hear from them again, through all of the pain she endured because of false accusations. She explains how she survived and how she and the other prisoners worked together to save one another's lives. One of the most interesting aspects of her account is being able to see how she was able to support and help uplift the other prisoners she had contact with.

I could not put this book down after I got about 30 pages into it. It is a really shocking thing to read. It is a sad book but I generally wouldn't call it depressing because Yevgenia is really a positive person and it's fascinating to see how she coped with everything and still maintained an optimistic outlook despite living through hell.

On a side note, there is another great book I read a couple of years ago that also explores the horrors of a corrupt communist government. It's called Red China Blues and it is about a Canadian woman who went to China in the 1970s to participate in and support the communists' Cultural Revolution. When she got there she was completely crushed and surprised to find a very oppressed and violent situation. The author wrote her experiences in this book later on. This book is a bit more depressing than Journey into the Whirlwind but has a lot of similarities in terms of exploring how communism ruins lives.

By the way, you can sometimes find Journey into the Whirlwind split into two parts so if you do, make sure to start with part I.

So please give it a try. And I would love to hear any feedback!


  1. This sounds exactly like the kind of book I love to read. Thanks for the recommendation. I'm adding it to my Good Reads account right now.

  2. I'm sorry!! I will read it eventually! It was confusing so I couldn't keep reading!