This chapter examines memoir literature as a source of Soviet history that is as productive as it is problematic. As many historians – not just of Russia – have argued, memoirs are an unreliable source, in which the instability of memory forestalls any search for objective truth about the past. For historians of the USSR, memoirs – like autobiographies and diaries – raise important questions about whether subjective narratives can ever be trusted in a ‘totalitarian’ regime. At the same time, however, the Soviet Union’s shaping of collective memory, and its insistence that personal narratives had political importance, mean that memoirs represent a particularly rich source of information about how the past was understood, and how personal preoccupations and memories intersected with broader narratives of socialism and historical progress. In addition, the possibility of memoir to unlock individual experiences of past events, experiences which often foreground the emotional and the sensory, make memoirs a particularly productive source for the historian.

In order to tease out these issues, this chapter will examine the 1966 memoir of Agrippina Kalugina, a deaf woman who witnessed – and participated in – the events of 1917 and the subsequent struggle to construct a Soviet deaf community. While on the surface, Kalugina’s memoir represents a typically teleological narrative of deaf progress, it also reveals important issues of language, community, and sensory experience, exposing tensions between individual and collective narratives of the past. By examining Kalugina’s work, this chapter will argue that memoir literature reveals much about the history of socialism as it was lived, experienced and remembered.