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Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

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Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 7–9 | Summary



Chapter 7: Life Counted in Minutes

In December 1936, Genia Ginzburg takes the train to Moscow to respond to Yemelyan Yaroslavsky's summons. In despair, she opens the carriage door and considers stepping out of the moving train. A fellow passenger, Makarova, a doctor she knows, gently pulls her back and tells her that someday "all this will be over."

In Moscow Yaroslavsky amends the charge of "relaxation of vigilance" to "collusion with the enemy." Genia argues against this upgrade and tells Yaroslavsky she did nothing more than he did. He decided to include the article and he, like her, did not denounce Professor Nikolay Elvov. She wants to know why she is being punished—and he is not—for doing the same thing. Yaroslavsky admits to a mistake but does not explain his exemption from prosecution. Genia decides not to push further, knowing she has crossed a line by accusing him. She also knows that "nothing would make any difference, nothing was any use." Whether Yaroslavsky is charged or not will not change what happens to her. She returns to Kazan knowing she will be arrested and determines to make the best of every minute of freedom. Two-and-a-half months remain before she is arrested.

Chapter 8: The Year 1937 Begins

On her return to Kazan, Genia learns her elder son, Alyosha Aksyonov, is sick. Because it is the school holidays, she takes him for a "change of air" to Astafyevo, a former prince's estate turned holiday spot for the Moscow elite. Her husband, Paul Aksyonov, accompanies her, and the two spend hours discussing what is happening with the Communist Party. Several Party members they know have disappeared. Genia tries to express her growing doubts, but her husband, resistant, takes the orthodox view. While he has no doubts about his wife's innocence—"a mistake has been made"—he is less certain of others, believing a person must "be mixed up in something or other" to have such charges brought against them. He also believes he can do nothing about what he considers a "passing phase."

One day Paul and Genia argue over something negative she says about Yemelyan Yaroslavsky. Paul warns that such comments could "land us both in jail." He grabs at her arm, and during a struggle her watch falls off into a snowdrift. They spend more than an hour looking, but fail to find it. Both realize they are "only pretending to be upset by the loss of the watch" but are really upset at the loss of their life together as they have known it, realizing silently they "no longer had a part in life with its ordinary human relations."

Chapter 9: Expelled from the Party

Genia and her family return to Kazan in early February. On February 7 Genia reports to the district committee office, where her case has been transferred. She is questioned by Biktashev, a former pupil she tutored 10 years ago. Both he and Genia are uncomfortable. In fact, "his face is a picture of agony as he listened to the charges." Genia slips out of the meeting without waiting to hear a decision. She knows she is being expelled from the Party, a decision confirmed when Biktashev tells her to leave her Communist Party membership card behind. Outside, she meets her husband and informs him she was required to surrender her card. He sighs, as it is "clear to him now how close we were to the precipice."


Chapters 7–9 reveal Genia Ginzburg's growing realization her innocence will not protect her from punishment. Up to this point she has fought—and vowed to continue fighting—but in Chapter 7 she realizes that defending herself is futile. She begins the process of mind control that will sustain her through almost two decades of imprisonment. She empties her mind of thought and fills it with poetry. Although the verses she chooses during this period suggest that individuals "whose lives have been broken could still assert their courage by dying" and thus may not be life affirming, they enable her to control her thoughts, even if she cannot control her life or her own body.

The chapters also underscore the absurdity of the charges against Genia. She has done nothing different from her interrogator, Yemelyan Yaroslavsky. While her husband, Paul Aksyonov (and even Genia at times) believes a person accused of a crime must have done at least a speck of wrongdoing, the rest of the book will prove the fallacy of such an attitude. In fact, millions were swept up in Stalin's purges and accused, with no evidence, of crimes they did not commit. Instead, the accusers looked for ways to make the actions fit the crime rather than the reverse. Innumerable loyal Communists, including Genia's accusers, will also eventually fall to charges of wrongdoing and be imprisoned or executed. At the time, however, Genia is unable to envision the enormity of the situation. She knows only her own role in it, knows she is being unfairly accused, and knows she will be unjustly punished. And she knows she is powerless to stop it. Indeed, she knows she has two options: die silently or face what awaits her.

In Chapter 8 Genia provides statistical information she learned years later. At Astafyevo she mingled with members of the Communist Party's ruling elite. Of those in attendance, only about 10 percent were spared from Stalin's purges. The remainder were arrested within the first few months of 1937 and sent to Butyrki prison. Their children, pampered and privileged, were sent to children's homes. Their chauffeurs were arrested for complicity or other crimes. Genia describes the Astafyevo atmosphere as "a real 'Masque of the Red Death'," an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe's story about a masquerade party at which guests revel at the prince's estate, while outside a plague (known as the Red Death) is sweeping the countryside, killing hundreds of people. A masked intruder dressed as the Red Death arrives at the party, and eventually the host and all the guests die. To readers the allusion is not only to the story itself, but to the verbal irony in the story's title and the idea of "Red Death" meaning "Communist Red" and the ensuing purges.

The uncomfortable situation with her former pupil Biktashev underscores her status as a teacher and the devotion of her students, as do the flowers sent to her in Chapter 5. Genia knows Biktashev owes her gratitude (he most likely knows, too), and his visible discomfort, even shame, at having to do his job embarrasses him, making it clear it is a task he does not want to do. His attitude may clarify for readers that not every government official took pleasure in carrying out Communist Party orders—but did so anyways. Readers may wonder whether he will change his attitude or whether he will become a victim as well.

Before leaving Moscow following her interrogation, Genia knows she will be found guilty, and it is merely a matter of time before she is punished. The year 1937 will prove to be a pivotal moment, not only in Genia's life but also in the history of the Soviet Union. In Chapter 9 Genia responds to the first strike against her—expulsion from the Party—as if it is inevitable. She knows she is in danger, but she failed to heed earlier warnings and did not flee. She has, however, made a mental break with the Party by leaving the meeting early, thus violating Party regulations. Because she is being expelled, she knows there is no longer any point in following the rules.

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