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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bukharin Remembered

"It is not easy to mobilize my memory, to direct it down the channel of events dominated by the treachery of Stalin and the sufferings of Bukharin in disgrace", writes Anna Larina in her extraordinary autobiography, "This I Cannot Forget".

Nevertheless, Larina has managed to recount the painful tale of the betrayal of her husband, Bolshevik revolutionary Nikolai Bukharin, by Stalin, and the sufferings that she and other relatives of the Bolshevik aristocracy underwent, with an unerring feel for detail that brings alive the nightmare of the Stalinist repressions.

The result is unlike any of the other books written about the gulag and the Great Terror of the late 1930s, because it is written by an insider, a member both by birth and marriage of the top echelons of early Soviet society Many Soviet prisoners wept at the death of Stalin in 1953, having believed all those years that "if only Iosif Vissarionovich knew, he would save us". Anna Larina, who knew Stalin personally, was under no such illusions.

Larina, born in 1914, was the adopted daughter of Yury Larin, a Bolshevik revolutionary and economic theorist. She grew up in Room 305 of the Metropol Hotel, known after the revolution as the Second House of Soviets, and sat at dinner with Lenin, Stalin, and Lavrenti Beria - later her interrogator - during her childhood. Her 10th birthday fell on Jan. 27, 1924, the day of Lenin's funeral; her father refused to celebrate on that day and had his daughter's date of birth legally changed to May 27.

Surrounded by these architects of the Russian revolution, it was inevitable that "Anyutka" should also meet Lenin's "golden boy of the revolution", the gregarious and extremely popular Nikolai Bukharin, who often came to visit Yury Larin. Larina developed a schoolgirl crush on Bukharin, who was 25 years her senior. Stalin was even the unwitting carrier of her first love note to "Nikolai Ivanovich", as Larina refers to him throughout her book: Bumping into Stalin in the corridors of the Metropol, she gave her future enemy her missive, too bashful to deliver it herself.

The flirtation turned into a more serious romance on a holiday in the Crimea in 1930, and in January 1934, the 20-year-old Larina and the 45-year-old Bukharin were married. Their time together was to be painfully short - by 1936, Bukharin had been edged out of Politburo activity by Stalin, who saw Bukharin and his strong opposition to the harsh collectivization policies as a very real danger to his stranglehold on power.

As Bukharin languished in their Kremlin apartment, awaiting his inevitable arrest in late 1936, Larina found her husband pointing a pistol at his head. She screamed, and snatched away the gun. Looking back, the widow, who fought until 1988 to have her husband rehabilitated, questions her actions. "I believe it would have been easier for Nikolai Ivanovich if his life had been terminated right then", writes Larina.

On Feb. 27, 1937, Bukharin was arrested, and his young wife never saw him again. The "favorite of the revolution" languished in prison for a year before his famous orchestrated show trial, in which Bukharin defended himself with courage and eloquence. He "confessed" to some of the fanciful accusations, trying desperately to save his family, which now included a baby son, Yury, but was executed in March 1938.

At the age of 23, Larina, the little girl who had sat on Lenin's knee, was suddenly thrown into solitary confinement in leaky, rat-infested cells, guilty through association with a "traitor to the motherland". Her baby was taken away from her and all the ideals she had cherished seemed suddenly to have been abandoned by the country her father and husband had fought to create.

She remained resolute throughout, composing poetry in her head and repeating Bukharin's "Testament to a Future Generation of Bolshevik Leaders", which he had made her memorize for posterity before his arrest.

He also made her promise to raise their son as a Bolshevik, but she would not be reunited with him until 1956. Raised in orphanages, the young Yury Larin did not learn that he was Bukharin's son until he was an adult.

Larina tells her tale without excess dramatization, her grim experiences in prison interspersed with memories of a happier time of "thrillingly romantic" Crimean evenings, and analyses of historical documents, such as the controversial "Letter of an Old Bolshevik", which Larina denies her husband ever wrote.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the book, published in English by W. W. Norton & Company, is its glimpse into the previously closed circles of the Bolshevik hierarchy. On a 1930 trip to Ukraine, Bukharin saw packs of begging children, starving in the famine brought about by forced collectivization. Returning to Moscow, he cried out, "If more than 10 years after the revolution, one can see such things as this, what was the point of doing it in the first place? ", collapsed on the couch, and sobbed hysterically.

Larina's memoirs were serialized in Russian in a literary journal in 1988, and published in book form the following year. "This I Cannot Forget" provoked many emotional responses from readers, and a selection of their letters is included at the end. Even more moving is Bukharin's final letter to his "dear sweet Annushka, my darling", which she only received last summer and is reprinted here.

The fact that Larina stayed sane is a triumph in itself; writing down what she experienced has given historians of the period, and anyone even casually interested in the formation of the Soviet Union, a unique and fascinating insight into the darkest days of its history.