THE OTHER RUSSIA By Michael Glenny and Norman Stone Viking. 474 pp. $24.95

NEW GROUND is not broken in this horrific docuhistory; rather, through 61 interviews with emigres of various vintage, the monumental suffering of the Russian people during this century once again unfolds. Each interview is a personal-nightmare vignette, but not all are compelling. The collection does not have the riveting consistency of, say, Studs Terkel's Working. Not for any lack of interest on my part, I found myself insufficiently engaged and skimming the book for nuggets, of which there were plenty. The editors' periodic explanatory bridges kept me fixed historically but their style doesn't flow, and there are repetitions that should have been culled by the Viking editor, who evidently wasn't engaged, either.

On page 179, for instance, we are told that "the strangest of all emigre communities was that of Harbin," and 20 pages later, "of all centres of Russian emigration, the town of Harbin was undoubtedly the most peculiar." The biggest center of emigration in the East was, in fact, Shanghai, "the Yellow Babylon," where impoverished daughters of the Russian nobility became ladies of the night. But for some reason there is no material about Shanghai in the book. Even so, The Other Russia is a valuable contribution to the literature on one of the most wrenching and resonant historical periods of all time, which is on the verge of fading from living memory.

The exodus of Russians from 1917 on, the editors report, has been "one of the major population movements of modern times." No fewer than three million have relocated. The First Wave, the White Russians, many of them of the nobility, who fled the Revolution and the Civil War between 1917 and 1921, was the largest -- maybe two million. After 1926 the borders were sealed and few escaped Stalin's totalitarian state. Millions died in his purges and prison camps. The Second Wave left during World War II, but many played into the hands of the Nazis and were plunged into a new moral abyss. The Third Wave was the emigration of Soviet Jews, which continues. As they step off the plane these days in Tel Aviv, they are issued gas masks.

In fact Jews have been leaving Russia in significant numbers since the days of the Pale, and it is the accounts of their suffering in this book that arouse the greatest horror and pity. It's harder to commiserate with the adjustment problems of First Wavers like Countess Bobrinskaya, who found herself starting over sans servants in middle-class Buckinghamshire. Or with Pyotr Shilovsky, a provincial governor under the Tsar, who after all these years still doesn't understand how it all could have happened. "I leave it to historians to . . . {explain} how millions of the lower classes, who had only recently been good-natured or indifferent in their attitude to the upper classes . . . were transformed into an embodiment of ferocious, boundless hatred," he ruminates.

Some blamed Kerensky, the "balalaika" of the Provisional Government, as Lenin called him, for his failure to crush Bolshevism in its infancy and his fumbling attempts to supplant the immemorial autocracy with something more democratic. Other First Wavers, in an equally age-old pattern, made the outcasts the scapegoats for the problems of their society and blamed the good old "Jewish conspiracy." As Esther Markish, who survived the Ekaterinoslav pogrom of 1918, remarks sadly, "Their long history had shown indisputably that, whatever changes occurred in the surrounding society, they always led to persecution of the Jews, to looting, pogroms and murders. That was why, when gangs, inflamed by vodka, rushed into the streets of Ekaterinoslav, the Jews, forewarned by the bitter memories of previous generations, began to prepare themselves for a pogrom. The first step they took was apparently insignificant: it was to tear down and clear away the wooden fences which separated the houses. This operation was prompted by past experience and had an important practical significance: to enable people to flee as fast as possible from the looting pogromschiki and to escape unhindered by obstacles. To jump over wooden fences with little children is difficult, not to say impossible."

It is the thesis of Glenny and Stone that "Bolshevism, Stalinism, and the rest of the story" -- of which these emigres were and the hundreds of millions still in the Soviet Union continue to be victims -- would not have happened if Germany, alarmed by Russia's economic advances beginning in 1908, and realizing its potential to emerge as a superpower, had not deliberately laid waste to the Tsarist state.

And yet the victims of the Soviet nightmare frequently have problems with its alternative. The writer Eduard Limonov, for instance, found American society no more "the dream of mankind" or "democratic" or the "free world" than the one he left. "The unfair election is the same in the Soviet Union as in the United States," he observes, "except that in the Soviet Union it's one candidate and in the United States, it's two. Look at that Democratic primary {in the 1988 presidential race}, for example . . . All the candidates are not less than senators, except poor Jesse Jackson, and he will never win as everybody knows. That society's more predictable than the Soviet" -- and, he added, "very hypocritical and nasty in its own way, and very dangerous as well" -- an assessment that in the light of our ongoing performance in the Gulf may be right on the money.

Alex Shoumatoff is the author of "In Russian Blood," which tells the story of how his White Russian grandparents got out of Russia during the Revolution and started a new life in America.