How It All Began

The Prison Novel

Nikolai Bukharin

Introduced by Stephen F. Cohen


6.5 x 9.5 inches, xxviii + 345pp. 2000

ISBN : 9788170461722

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Here at last in English is Nikolai Bukharin’s autobiographical novel and final work. Many dissident texts of the Stalin era were saved by chance, by bravery, or by cunning; others were systematically destroyed. Bukharin’s work, however, was simultaneously preserved and suppressed within Stalin’s personal archives.


At once novel, memoir, political apology, and historical document, How It All Began, known in Russia as 'the prison novel,' adds greatly to our understanding of this vital intellectual and maligned historical figure. The panoramic story, composed under the worst of circumstances, traces the transformation of a sensitive young man into a fiery agitator and presents a revealing new perspective on the background and causes of the revolution that transformed the twentieth century.


While in prison, Bukharin wrote four books, of which this unfinished novel was the last. It traces the development of Nikolai 'Kolya' Petrov (closely modelled on Nikolai “Kolya” Bukharin) from his early childhood to age fifteen. In lyrical and poetic terms, it paints a picture of Nikolai’s growing political consciousness and ends with his activism on the eve of the failed 1905 revolution. The novel is presented here along with the only surviving letter from Bukharin to his wife during his time in prison, an epistle filled with fear, longing, and hope for his family and his nation. The introduction by Stephen F. Cohen articulates Nikolai Bukharin’s significance in Soviet history and reveals the troubled journey of this novel from Stalin’s archives into the light of day. 

Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) was a Bolshevik intellectual and revolutionary, as well as the author of more than a hundred articles and books. Executed as a 'counter-revolutionary', he was exonerated fifty years later by Mikhail Gorbachev.


Culture Studies