Re Peter Reddaway and Stephen F. Cohen’s June 11 “Dishonoring Stalin’s Victims,” about my 2007 book The Whisperers: in a book as large and complex as The Whisperers unintended errors are not unusual. Normally they are dealt with by a writer and his publisher without the intervention of the press or other academics given access to such private correspondence.
I reject the insinuation that I used a political smokescreen to conceal shoddy scholarship. The first I heard of Dynastia’s concerns was on April 15, 2011—two years after my one and only comment about politics on the cancellation of the first contract with Atticus in March 2009. In their letter Dynastia drew my attention to about a dozen “factual inaccuracies” and “misrepresentations.”
On close examination the alleged faults turned out to be errors of translation, matters of interpretation or derived from Memorial’s own sources—leaving a handful of genuine errors in a book based on thousands of interviews and archival documents.
The Whisperers was always going to be a complicated book to translate into Russian. In anticipation of the problems we might encounter, I prepared a 115-page memorandum for the translators but never heard from them. I was not consulted on the translation.
I regret any mistakes. It was never my intention to cause offense, to “insult the memory” of anyone or to misrepresent the history of any family included in the book. Nor have I “invented” things.
On April 18, 2011, I replied to Dynastia addressing their concerns, pointing out some of the confusions in their translations and offering to make any “revisions” they considered necessary. I received no reply.
The misquotation of Natalia Danilova resulted from the accidental substitution of my annotated file for the original transcript. I corrected the error as soon as I was made aware of it.
Mikhail Stroikov’s daughter referred in an interview to an “Uncle Boria,” who worked in OGPU. This was the source of my mistake, as Memorial’s researchers suggested. I reject the accusation that I “invented facts” for “dramatic purposes.”
According to Memorial’s sources, Dina Ioelson-Grodzianskaia was employed as an “agronomist” and a “specialist” when she was a prisoner—in Solzhenitsyn’s terms, enough to justify describing her as a “trusty”—although I wrote sympathetically about her as a victim of the Gulag. In my letter to Dynastia I offered to withdraw any words that might have caused offense.
I am grateful to Memorial, who, three years after The Whisperers was published, gave me access to the valuable archive that forms the basis of Just Send Me Word. It is wrong to suggest that I have misused the “Note From Memorial.” Its inclusion in my book was a condition set by Memorial and one I was anxious to honor.
Reddaway and Cohen Reply
Washington, D.C.; New York City
In his reply to our article, Orlando Figes presents readers with still more misrepresentations of the truth. Figes now claims that Dynastia, in informing him that it was canceling the contract to publish a Russian edition of The Whisperers, cited only “about a dozen ‘factual inaccuracies’ and ‘misrepresentations.’” To clarify the matter, Dynastia has allowed us to quote the letter to which Figes refers. This letter, dated April 6, 2011, draws attention to numerous errors and misrepresentations in just a few sample fragments of The Whisperers (not the entire book, as Figes would have Nation readers believe), and says that “after revising several chapters we had to stop.”