I Want to Live: The Diary of a Young Girl in Stalin’s Russia
What an extraordinary insight Nina gives us into the closed world of Stalinist Russia. Starting in 1932, when Nina was nearly fourteen years old, her diary focuses on typical teenage concerns – crushes on boys, anxiety about her looks, her hopes and ambitions, her family and friends, schoolwork, and exams – but it also contains her opinions and comments, ranging from naïve to highly perceptive, on Soviet politics and key events (such as the famine in Ukraine, the death of Stalin’s wife, the crash of the Maxin Gorky, among others). In 1933 Nina wrote, ‘To hell with the new society anyway! Genka [a school friend] is the only one who can get enthusiastic about it and spend hours reading what Lenin and Stalin said and what advances our Soviet Union has made.’ Four years later, Stalin’s secret police ransacked Nina’s home and removed her diary as evidence of her treason against the State.
The most remarkable aspect of this diary is that this moody teenager writes so compellingly and had such ambition and hope for the future. ‘I want to be great and extraordinary,’ she writes, and later, ‘I want to find something serious and worthwhile in life, a desire to devote myself to learning.’ Instead, she came to realise that ‘we mean absolutely nothing at all to these villains who hold the power.’ Nina’s father had already been arrested in 1929, and his free-spirited, rebellious daughter and the rest of the family were sentenced to five years hard labour in January 1937. Nina never became a writer, but it is a strange irony that the KGB archives preserved her voice and enabled it to outlive the Soviet Union.