Lenin's Tomb. The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.
Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota
Remnick, David. Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Read by Michael Prichard. Books on Tape, Inc.
David Remnick, an American journalist with roots in Russia, reported
on the period from 1989-1994, the time of transition from communism
to todays rather unstable democracy. At home in the Russian
language and culture, he was able to poke about and travel and speak
with persons great and clearly not so great. He pulls together many
essays from his journalistic writing in this book, which I listened
to in audiobook form. The people he interviewed and the observations
he made make for a fascinating view of what Russia was like across
this period. Lest the title confuse, the whole of the Soviet Union
was Lenins Tomb. Some of the chapters:
A woman of low station had a great impact when her essay defending
the communist system was reprinted in papers across Russia. She
was one of many who felt that the communist government with its
tight controls made for a clean, moral country. If anyone was sent
to a prison or camp or to Siberia, even if it was for a minor offense
like being late for work, they had it coming. They should have been
there on time.
Remnick tried very hard but with little success to get an interview
with a quiet-appearing man who had committed some of the worst crimes
during the communist takeover times. High-ranking communists guarded
to the bitter end what was, at the time and place, a lavish lifestyle.
The offenses for which people received terrible punishment were
often so trivial, to the western mind, that one wonders how anyone
could have respected their government .
Remnick visited a detention camp out on the open Siberian steppe.
He spoke with a number of the dispirited persons still held there.
Soviet journalism, print and broadcast, had its formulas which distorted
almost everything it reported on. He observed increasing efforts
by a few to report honestly on what was happening.
Remnick evaluates the Soviet leaders who followed Stalins
footsteps: Khrushchev et al. They believed in the communist system
but made efforts to ease some of the very worst abuses.
Throughout the book, the KGB lurks, ready with its Black Mariahs
to grab someone and take them to interrogation or torture or worse.
Remnick describes the circumstances under which large numbers of
persons would be executed assembly-line style, with a bullet to
the head. An apron on the drunken executioner would shield him from
the blood. While Remnick was doing his reporting, the KGB made an
attempt to improve public relations using western PR methods. Nobody
took the new image very seriously.
Yeltsin and Gorbachev come across clearly as they lead the effort
to overthrow the corrupt old system and replace it with representative
democracy. Remnick respected those men, imperfect as they were,
for their leadership during extremely difficult times.
Remnick, perhaps, sees a brighter, more democratic future for the
Soviet Union than materialized during the years after 1994. His
first-person account of what these years were like make this an
excellent source for anyone curious about the process.
I have read two accounts by Germans from Russia who were traveling
and visiting in the Soviet Union at the time the communists tried
to regain control of the government (1991). One was by Timothy and
Rosalinda Kloberdanz (Thunder on the Steppe: Volga German
Folklife in a Changing Russia) and the other by Rev. John
Block (Escape: Siberia to California: the 65 Year Providential
Journey of Our Family). Remnicks account fit very well
with their experiences. There were no CNN reporters to tell the
public what was going on; the media played classical music without
comment on the most dangerous days, so they knew they were in big
trouble. It was impossible for them to get a phone call out of the
country. Later, they learned that the communists had large stashes
of handcuffs and blank arrest warrants. Clearly, the communists
were planning to play the early revolutionary years all over again.
Good they were more clumsy than they had to be.
The reader of this audiobook, Michael Prichard, has a fine, mellifluous
voice. This is the second audiobook I have listened to with him
as reader, and he wears well over the hours. If you are interested
in this book, try to borrow it in audiobook form. You may want to
ask your local public library to get it. There are references by
name to hundreds of persons and, for a non-Russian speaker, it would
be easy to give up reading the book because of the difficulty of
reading the names. Prichard has done it for you, so give him a chance
to help you over this rough spot.
to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested
by contacting Michael