Wendy Z. Goldman

 

On her book Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin’s Russia

Cover Interview of October 19, 2011

A close-up

The front cover of the book reproduces a very powerful painting and is worth looking at carefully.  Dmitri Zhilinskii, the artist, painted it from memory.  It depicts his own father’s arrest in 1937. Zhilinskii includes himself as a young child (on the spine of the book), standing in his underwear and watching the NKVD’s midnight search of his family’s small apartment. His father stands in the center of the painting with his hands raised in surrender.  The title of the painting is “1937,” a year that is a synonym for the terror. The painting now hangs in the Tretiakov Museum in Moscow.

Readers will find many gripping stories about personal relationships, dark secrets, and twisted behavior in these pages.

None of the betrayals depicted here are foreign to us as human beings.  I think my readers will be able to project themselves into every agonizing dilemma faced by Soviet citizens.

I would suggest that a browser open the book to page 140, the first page of the chapter “Family Secrets.”  Here, on this page, the reader will meet Margolina, a party member who worked in a textile factory.  Margolina comes home from work one day to find a mysterious postcard in her mailbox, sent by her brother in Kharkov.  The postcard contains a single, cryptic line.  It states that Margolina’s married stepsister “was alone.”  Margolina immediately grasps the terrifying meaning of the message, as well as its ability to upend her own life.