In response to:
A Double Game with Stalin from the January 12, 2012 issue
To the Editors:
In his review of a play about Mikhail Bulgakov [“A Double Game with Stalin,” NYR, January 12], Orlando Figes claims that The White Guard by Bulgakov was the favorite novel of Stalin. The latter adored the Bulgakov play The Turbin’s Days, which had been performed in the Moscow Art Theater. It was the first Soviet drama staged in that renowned theater, an important point scored by the Soviet authorities in their ideological struggle—although the same authorities deemed the play anti-Soviet and severely criticized it. The play itself was a dramatic adaptation of the above-mentioned novel. There are multiple sources that confirm that Stalin went several times to the theater to enjoy the performance. It nevertheless falls short for the claim of the original novel as Stalin’s favorite one, and it would be difficult to find a credible source to make such a claim.
Orlando Figes replies:
Of course it would be hard to find a “credible source.” The reader is correct. There is only hearsay evidence. Several novels have been “claimed” as “Stalin’s favorite,” including The Young Guard by Fadeev, Faraon by Prus, and The White Guard. I’m not sure any of these claims could be backed by reliable evidence. They are conjectures more than factual “claims,” and it is in that spirit that I mentioned The White Guard in my review.