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The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution: A Talk by Yuri Slezkine

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Pushkin House welcomes Yuri Slezkine for a compelling talk on his book 'The House of Government', which is shortlisted for the 2018 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize

Written in the tradition of Tolstoy's War and Peace, Grossman’s Life and Fate, and Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, Yuri Slezkine tells the true story of the residents of an enormous Moscow apartment building where top Communist officials and their families lived before they were destroyed in Stalin’s purges.

Completed in 1931, the House of Government, later known as the House on the Embankment, was located across the Moscow River from the Kremlin. The largest residential building in Europe, it combined 505 furnished apartments with public spaces that included everything from a movie theater and a library to a tennis court and a shooting range. Slezkine tells the chilling story of how the building’s residents lived in their apartments and ruled the Soviet state until some eight hundred of them were evicted from the House and led, one by one, to prison or their deaths.

Drawing on letters, diaries, and interviews, and featuring hundreds of rare photographs, The House of Government weaves together biography, literary criticism, architectural history, and fascinating new theories of revolutions, millennial prophecies, and reigns of terror. The result is an unforgettable human saga of a building that, like the Soviet Union itself, became a haunted house, forever disturbed by the ghosts of the disappeared.

Praise for 'The House of Government'

"A Must-Read."--Margaret Atwood

"This panoramic history plotted as an epic family tragedy describes the lives of Bolshevik revolutionaries who were swallowed up by the cause they believed in. The story is as intricate as any Russian novel, and the chapters on the Stalinist Terror are the most vivid."--New York Times Book Review

"Magisterial. . . . A twelve-hundred-page epic that recounts the multigenerational story of the famed building and its inhabitants--and, at least as interesting, the rise and fall of Bolshevist faith."--Joshua Yaffa, The New Yorker

"Yuri Slezkine, Mercurian par excellence, has caught an extraordinary set of lives in this book. Few historians, dead or alive, have managed to combine so spectacularly the gifts of storyteller and scholar."--Benjamin Nathans, New York Review of Books

"The author’s command of the narrative, woven together with innumerable testimonies, is compelling. The effect is like Solzhenitsyn with photographs."--Tom Stoppard, Times Literary Supplement

"What more fitting monument to a millenarian movement could there be than a thousand-page 'saga'? Yuri Slezkine’s guiding argument in this remarkable, many-layered account of the men (rarely women) who shaped the October Revolution is that the Bolsheviks were not a party but an apocalyptic sect. The House of Government is a compelling microhistory of the interwar Soviet elite, but it is also a literary-rhetorical tour de force."--Stephen Lovell, Times Literary Supplement

"A Soviet War and Peace."--Sheila Fitzpatrick, London Review of Books

"A brilliant retelling of, mainly, the first two decades of the Soviet era in a sprawling saga centered around a famous and infamous Moscow apartment building created for the new elite."--Andrew Stuttaford, Wall Street Journal

"[The House of Government] is a dizzying book, a hall of mirrors, panoramic and bizarre, as puzzlingly esoteric and thrillingly fervent as the doctrines it describes."--Owen Hatherley, The Guardian

"A story that is as Russian in scope as it is symbolic of what Russia and the Russian revolution eventually became."--The Economist



Yuri Slezkine is the Jane K. Sather Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include The Jewish Century (Princeton). Read an exclusive Pushkin House interview with Yuri Slezkine here.