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The recorded oral memories of Agnes Mironova (1903-1982) is a must book for anybody who wants to know what was a personal life like under Stalinism. For the first time ever, Agnes’s notes open the secret door into living rooms and boudoirs of Stalin's "hangmen", top-ranked Soviet secret police officers during the purges of 1930-40ies. However, anyone who reads this book with the intention to better understand the past, will also discover an outstanding female character, a gorgeous bitch, a proud predator, who reveals all truths about herself frankly and without keeping anything back. A life story of this unique woman, so beautiful and repulsive at once, has developed during the most terrible and bloody period of modern history.
She has always shaped her own destiny in line with XIXth-century model of aggressive female personality in search of perfect husband. Her acumen and self-centeredness are reminiscent of the strong character and high degree of self-interest of Scarlett O'Hara, the heroine of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. There’s no bigotry or hypocrisy in Agnes’s life ideology, she is too proud and self-assured in her own attractiveness and her feminine power over men. At certain moments of her life, she demonstrates a highest degree of determination mixed with filibusterism.
One of Agnes’s husbands, ‘the main love of her life’ as she dubbed him, was ambitious and energetic NKVD officer Sergei Mironov. Thanks to his extremely fast and successful career, Agnes got to the very top society of the Stalin era. Later, after Mironov was arrested and executed, Agnes began a new life with a new husband. We follow the amazing trajectory of her life full of most drastic contrasts: first she talks with Stalin at the New Year celebration party in Kremlin, and next freezes in some Gulag camp lost in cold Kazakh steppes; first she lives alone with her husband in a huge mansion once belonging to the royal governor of Siberia, and next in a miserable pigeonhole in communal apartment in Moscow; first she travels in a luxury saloon cars and limos, and next is a prisoner of the NKVD jail.
Aged Agnes has shared her life story with a younger friend; she definitely wasn’t trying to elicit sympathy or compassion, but rather to revive the memories of the bright and happy days when she was so victorious, beloved, beautiful, and nicely-dressed.
The memories of Agnes Mironova is more than just an interesting biography with rich historical background; it’s a fascinating text with exactly grasped conversational tone that conveys something that no archive document can revive: everyday life, ordinary characters, ideas, and finally, the mythology of the past.
Oral memories of Agnes Mironova recorded by Mira Yakovenko were first published in 2008 by Memorial Society. In 2012, Irina Sherbakova, the head of Moscow Memorial Society, has prepared an extensive commentary, a preface to Agnes’s book, and the index of all historical figures mentioned in the book. Available also a collection of photos from Agnes’s personal archive.
Technical details: 89.837 words, 499.782 symbols with spaces in the translated manuscript + 8.317 words, 56.953 symbols with spaces in the introductory article + аcollection of photos from family album
- There are many fine works that offer harrowing accounts of the fate of Stalin's innocent victims. This book is different. Agnessa was the beautiful, strong-willed, frivolous, and loving wife of a regional boss of Stalin's secret police who shut her eyes to the murderous activities of her husband. She offers a unique account of what it was like to be the wife of a high-ranking member of the Soviet elite, enjoying fine food, high fashion, 'ladies-in-waiting,' and lavish holidays at a time when millions were starving or being worked to death. Her gripping story provides insight into the thuggish world of cronyism, backstabbing, and intrigue that typified the Stalinist elite, a world in which the guilty feared they would meet the same sticky end as that to which they had condemned millions of innocent people. Agnessa's life would be marked by tragedy, and she would rise to its challenges. But it is her partial complicity in the world of which she is a part, the fact that she is a very flawed heroine, that makes her account so compelling.
--S.A. Smith, All Souls College, Oxford