Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of the oral history The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia.
 (October 2016)


Alexievich’s New Kind of History

Svetlana Alexievich, Stockholm, November 2012

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

by Svetlana Alexievich, translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich
When she won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, Svetlana Alexievich was little known outside Belarus and the former Soviet Union where her books were published in Russian. Those that had been translated into English had appeared with small presses. Newspapers scrambled to find out who the Belarusian writer was …

The Courage of the Composer

Dmitri Shostakovich; drawing by William Kentridge for his production of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose, 2009

The Noise of Time

by Julian Barnes
In Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), his best-known novel, Julian Barnes recounts the scene in L’Éducation sentimentale where Frédéric, its hero, “wanders through an area of Paris wrecked by the 1848 uprising” and notices “amid the chaos” things that have survived by chance: He sees a clock, some prints—and a parrot’s perch.

The Tragic Wife of the Composer

Lina Prokofiev with her husband Serge, his mother Maria Grigorievna Prokofieva, and their son Svyatoslav, Paris, 1924

Lina and Serge: The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev

by Simon Morrison
Among the wives of famous men who languished in the Gulag, few had a more tragic tale to tell than Lina Prokofiev, the wife of the composer, who in 1948 was sentenced to twenty years in the labor camps of the far north for “treason to the motherland.” Soviet Russia …

A Double Game with Stalin

Mikhail Bulgakov


a play by by John Hodge, directed by Nicholas Hytner


by John Hodge
Collaborators starts with the writer Mikhail Bulgakov (played by Alex Jennings) waking from a nightmare in which he is being chased around his small apartment by Stalin (Simon Russell Beale). Tripped and lying on the floor, Bulgakov is about to be killed by the scary dictator, looming over him with …


Hamming Up Bulgakov

Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm in A Young Doctor’s Notebook

It’s not hard to see why Mikhail Bulgakov’s books are so often dramatized. He was himself a dramatist, and adapted his own novel The White Guard (1925) for the stage. His prose is highly visual, full of humorous incidents, theatrical in atmosphere, and frequently surreal—all qualities that lend it to the stage and screen. But not all his books were written in that vein. A new television series starring Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe shows that Bulgakov is becoming better known, but not necessarily through his own words.