The recorded oral memories of Agnessa Mironova (1903-1982) is a must book for anybody who wants to know what was a personal life like under Stalinism. For the first time ever, Agnessa’s notes open the secret door into living rooms and boudoirs of Stalin’s “hangmen”, top-ranked Soviet secret police officers during the purges of 1930-40ies. However, anyone who reads this book with the intention to better understand the past, will also discover an outstanding female character, a proud predator, who reveals all truths about herself frankly and without keeping anything back. A life story of this unique woman, so beautiful and repulsive at once, has developed during the most terrible and bloody period of modern history.
Agnessa’s husband, ‘the main love of her life’ as she dubbed him, was the NKVD officer Sergei Mironov. Thanks to his extremely fast and successful career, Agnessa got to the very top society of the Stalin era. We follow the amazing trajectory of her life full of most drastic contrasts: first she talks with Stalin at the New Year celebration party in Kremlin, and next freezes in a Gulag camp lost in cold Kazakh steppes; first she lives alone with her husband in a huge mansion once belonging to the royal governor of Siberia, and next in a miserable pigeonhole in communal apartment in Moscow; first she travels in a luxury saloon cars and limos, and next is a prisoner of the NKVD jail.
Agnessa’s memories are more than just an interesting biography with rich historical background; it’s a fascinating text with exactly grasped conversational tone that conveys something that no archive document can revive: everyday life, ordinary characters, ideas, and finally, the mythology of the past.
Oral memories of Agnessa Mironova recorded by Mira Yakovenko were first published in 2008 by Memorial Society. In 2012, Irina Sherbakova, the head of Moscow Memorial Society, has prepared an extensive commentary, a preface and the index of all historical figures mentioned in the book.
“There are many fine works that offer harrowing accounts of the fate of Stalin’s innocent victims. This book is different. Agnessa was the beautiful, strong-willed, frivolous, and loving wife of a regional boss of Stalin’s secret police who shut her eyes to the murderous activities of her husband. She offers a unique account of what it was like to be the wife of a high-ranking member of the Soviet elite, enjoying fine food, high fashion, ‘ladies-in-waiting,’ and lavish holidays at a time when millions were starving or being worked to death. Her gripping story provides insight into the thuggish world of cronyism, backstabbing, and intrigue that typified the Stalinist elite, a world in which the guilty feared they would meet the same sticky end as that to which they had condemned millions of innocent people. Agnessa’s life would be marked by tragedy, and she would rise to its challenges. But it is her partial complicity in the world of which she is a part, the fact that she is a very flawed heroine, that makes her account so compelling.“ S.A. Smith, All Souls College, Oxford