This article examines the personal papers of Fatima Gabitova, a writer and pedagogue who fell victim to Stalinist repression as a ‘wife of an enemy of the people’ in the Kazakh SSR. Gabitova’s life was in many ways extraordinary, and many of her experiences were hardly typical. Nevertheless, her exposure to Kazakhstan’s cultural and political elites and the rich textual archive she left behind provide a highly nuanced window into the lived experience of Stalinism in Kazakhstan. Her writings, which include journals, poetry, letters and memoiristic essays, reveal a highly articulated sense of self that was informed and influenced by the realities of life under Stalinism, but was not ultimately determined by the parameters of the Soviet system. Throughout her personal writings, Gabitova exhibits a complicated ambivalence towards the reality of Soviet rule that demonstrates the broader contradictions of Stalinism as a system that was at once repressive and participatory.