A wonderful examination of the power of art to defy tyranny, using not only the voices of the dissident poets including Boris Pasternak as well as Osip Mandelstam, but of ordinary Russians caught up in Stalin's purges. My favourite voice is that of Fikrit Shotman, whose humour, courage and uncomplaining acceptance of the madness of his world seems to me to be truly that of most Russians at the time.
'Nobody can calculate the weight of the state. It is on the realm of astronomical figures.'
'And do you think one man can resist the pressure of this astronomical weight? I will have your poem, Mandelstam. If for some reason I can't have your poem you will be crushed under the weight of the state.'
His bluntness left me short of breath. 'I am not a threat to Soviet power,' was all I could think to say.
He circled around the upholstered chair and stood over me, sucking on his cigarette, studying me with his angry yellow eyes. 'You are most certainly a threat to Soviet power. Someone who refuses to bow to Stalin's will may bend to the will of his enemies. There is no middle way between worshipping the ground Stalin walks on and desecrating it.'