How It All Began: The Prison Novel

Paperback | March 15, 1999

byNikolai BukharinTranslated byGeorge ShriverForeword byStephen F. Cohen

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Here at last in English is Nikolai Bukharin's autobiographical novel and final work. Many dissident texts of the Stalin era were saved by chance, by bravery, or by cunning; others were systematically destroyed. Bukharin's work, however, was simultaneously preserved and suppressed within Stalin's personal archives.

At once novel, memoir, political apology, and historical document, How It All Began, known in Russia as "the prison novel," adds deeply to our understanding of this vital intellectual and maligned historical figure. The panoramic story, composed under the worst of circumstances, traces the transformation of a sensitive young man into a fiery agitator, and presents a revealing new perspective on the background and causes of the revolution that transformed the face of the twentieth century.

Among the millions of victims of the reign of terror in the Soviet Union of the 1930's, Bukharin stands out as a special case. Not yet 30 when the Bolsheviks took power, he was one of the youngest, most popular, and most intellectual members of the Communist Party. In the 1920's and 30's, he defended Lenin's liberal New Economic Policy, claiming that Stalin's policies of forced industrialization constituted a "military-feudal exploitation" of the masses. He also warned of the approaching tide of European fascism and its threat to the new Bolshevik revolution. For his opposition, Bukharin paid with his freedom and his life. He was arrested and spent a year in prison. In what was one of the most infamous "show trials" of the time, Bukharin confessed to being a "counterrevolutionary" while denying any particular crime and was executed in his prison cell on March 15, 1938.

While in prison, Bukharin wrote four books, of which this unfinished novel was the last. It traces the development of Nikolai "Kolya" Petrov (closely modeled on Nikolai "Kolya" Bukharin) from his early childhood though to age fifteen. In lyrical and poetic terms it paints a picture of Nikolai's growing political consciousness and ends with his activism on the eve of the failed 1905 revolution. The novel is presented here along with the only surviving letter from Bukharin to his wife during his time in prison, an epistle filled with fear, longing, and hope for his family and his nation. The introduction by Stephen F. Cohen articulates Bukharin's significance in Soviet history and reveals the troubled journey of this novel from Stalin's archives into the light of day.

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From Our Editors

What was the remarkable treasure found in Stalin’s archives in 1990? Was it a chest of brimming with gems? Was it a trunk full of rare rubles? The fall of the Iron Curtain unveiled the personal memoirs of the final days of Nikolai Bukharin -- a Bolshevik imprisoned and executed by Stalin in 1938. Translated into English by George Shriv...

From the Publisher

Here at last in English is Nikolai Bukharin's autobiographical novel and final work. Many dissident texts of the Stalin era were saved by chance, by bravery, or by cunning; others were systematically destroyed. Bukharin's work, however, was simultaneously preserved and suppressed within Stalin's personal archives. At once novel, memoi...

Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) was a Bolshevik intellectual and revolutionary, as well as the author of more than a hundred articles and books. He was executed as a "counterrevolutionary" on March 15, 1938 and exonerated fifty years later by Mikhail Gorbachev.George Shriver has translated and edited Roy Medvedev's On Soviet Dissentand T...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8.75 × 1 × 0.68 inPublished:March 15, 1999Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231107315

ISBN - 13:9780231107310

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From Our Editors

What was the remarkable treasure found in Stalin’s archives in 1990? Was it a chest of brimming with gems? Was it a trunk full of rare rubles? The fall of the Iron Curtain unveiled the personal memoirs of the final days of Nikolai Bukharin -- a Bolshevik imprisoned and executed by Stalin in 1938. Translated into English by George Shriver, How It All Began is this extraordinary intellectual’s eye-witness account of the events leading up to the Russian Revolution.

Editorial Reviews

No one reading this book in context can fail to be moved by its author's valiant struggle to behold his life one last time.



Written while Bukharin was awaiting not merely execution, but execution on false charges as a Nazi spy and terrorist, this semi-autobiographical novel of a Russian childhood and youth, superbly introduced by Stephen Cohen, is an astonishing contribution to both literature and history.