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Night of Stone:
There is not much that 20th century Russia didn't know about death and suffering. From the persecution of the peasants to the slaughter of the First World War, the Bolshevik revolution, the Civil war, the famines of the 1930s, Stalinšs purges, the Eastern front of the Second World War, the gulags and the Mafia wars in Moscow and fighting in Chechnya, Russian modern history has been written in blood. The scale of the tragedy is beyond comprehension to most of us. We are told that roughly 50 million people were killed under the Stalinist regime. It is not the 50 million that is so shocking here; it is the roughly. We could be talking 55 million or more. No one knows. But how could five or so million people just disappear, unrecorded, unnoticed when each and every one was someone's father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter? Where does the mourning take place?
This is the question that Catherine Merridale sets out to answer in Night of Stone, her fascinating yet elegiac investigation into death and memory in Russia. The truth that Merridale uncovers is that the collective grief has merely been hidden, not buried. Over the years the authorities may have tried to kick over the traces of formal mourning by dismantling the state religion, by making cremation the order of the day and by turning squalid death into Marxist martyrdom, all washed down with liberal quantities of painkilling vodka, but the wounds are still open. And this is where Merridale's story becomes so fascinating. Because for every victim willing to come forward in the post-glasnost era to tell the truth about the tortures and the killings, there are several more voices urging them to keep quiet. Some wounds, it seems, are just too deep ever to be allowed to see the healing light of day. --John Crace [via]