The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin

The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin


Adam Hochschild


Document Type



Although some twenty million people died during Stalin’s reign of terror, only with the advent of glasnost did Russians begin to confront their memories of that time. In 1991, Adam Hochschild spent nearly six months in Russia talking to gulag survivors, retired concentration camp guards, and countless others. The result is a riveting evocation of a country still haunted by the ghost of Stalin.

Publication Date





New York




Arts and Humanities | Creative Writing | History | Nonfiction


Stalin's Quarter-century rule over the Soviet Union left some 20 million people dead. During the height of the terror, in the late 1930s, one out of every eight Soviet men, women and children was shot or sent to the gulag - where most died. Until glasnost unlocked the gates to Russia's past, no one could openly write or speak about this vast genocide - one of the great raw wounds of modern history. The Unquiet Ghost is about how people recover from an avalanche of repressed memories. Hochschild talks to prison survivors, democratically minded writers, and retired concentration camp guards. He visits school classrooms where uneasy teachers are struggling to teach students a history totally different from what they taught five years ago. He meets a much persecuted human rights activist - whose first job was as a secret police officer. He visits people searching for traces of missing parents and grandparents; and he examines files on the shelves of the Moscow archives of the KGB. In a section of this book excerpted in The New York Times Magazine, Hochschild visits a small Siberia town where a flooding river tore open a secret mass grave. He meets one woman whose father was buried there, and another, a friend and neighbor, who has learned that her father signed the execution orders. Hochschild visits villages deep in gulag territory, where snow lies on the ground for four months a year and where no American has been before. And, in an extraordinary journey that ends the book, he travels by helicopter to old labor camp sites in Russia's desolate, subarctic gold fields, one of the twentieth century's worst killing grounds. In recounting a history that most Russians only recently have dared to discuss, Hochschild also raises profound questions about the potential victim and the potential executioner inside us all.

The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin

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