I Wanna Be Literated #260

I Wanna Be Literated #260

Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire
by David Remnick

I love Soviet Russia history. It’s my jam, something that helps me pass the time when I’m doing security at night for my eXp Realty office gig and I suspect it will ALWAYS be my jam. But, I have to admit it’s been mostly the Lenin-Stalin era that I’ve sought out: the beginning. Probably because it all plays out like a sad soap opera right up to Stalin’s death. With this book, I decided to skip right to the end and learn about what made it all fall apart. Lenin’s Tomb tells the story of the final few years of Soviet Russia and tries to tell it from the lives of ordinary people who were caught up in the system. There are some fantastic stories here of perseverance and braveness, but also many of deception and despair. It’s over 500 pages of people and seemingly-isolated events that have one thing in common – they are Soviet in making. I was interested in the people Remnick wanted to talk about, but what makes this book such a failure is that he is incapable of showing the slightest bit of objectivity. As far as perspective is concerned, this book is a mess. We’re talking about a Pulitzer Prize winner here, folks.

Remnick paints with broad and manipulative strokes and has clearly made up his mind, or is trying to make up our minds on the nature of every single individual in this book. These are almost cartoonish misrepresentations of what are probably very complex people. In Remnick’s judgmental mind, Russia is inhabited by only two kinds of people: the heroic opposition or the evil Soviet. He doesn’t even try to hide his biases. Anything having to do with the Soviet system is depicted as grotesque and, for some reason, anti-Semitic in their driving force. For example, Remnick describes Andreyeva searching for “ethnic clues” in his name, he constantly mocks the appearance of anyone Russian ( calling them “drunks,” “beady-eyed,” “caveman brow,” “venomous,” and old), Soviet cities are by default disgusting (“like an ashtray stuffed with cigarette butts” and “apartments so ugly you could weep looking at them”). Remnick doesn’t hide his true intentions and he even says in one part “He was not so foolish as to think that an American reporter was visiting in order to do anything other than harm – and, in this, I suppose he was right.”

Other parts are simply weird and inconsistent, like Remnick taking a soft spot for Bukharin and his rehabilitation, claiming that Russia has no food when he is constantly eating feasts at the houses of people he interviews, his shady journalism (“dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people suffocated to death” and his recounting of events based on what he assumes people are thinking), his God-like worship of Sakharov without explaining why, his statement that Lenin did not have the power to name a successor (he named Trotsky in a well-known letter that was read to the entire party), and confusing sentences like “I had a chance to see glimpses of the worst nightmare of those who had once dreamed of an eternal Soviet empire.” This is a PULITZER PRIZE WINNING BOOK!

The problem with Lenin’s Tomb is Remnick himself. In his assessment of what is wrong with the Soviet system, his conclusion is that the Russians themselves are evil and irredeemable and deserve all the misery that’s coming to them. He just can’t see the humanity in them. The only true hero appearing in this book seems to be Remnick himself.

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