Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An outstanding account of the unravelling of the Soviet empire; with a new afterword by the author. (May)
In January 1988, Remnick began a tour as a reporter at the Moscow bureau of the Washington Post just in time for a front row seat to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Communist Party. Assignments brought him into contact with everyone from elite, old-guard communists and neo-Stalinists to liberal democrats and leaders of the reform movement. Remnick recounts the particulars of these interactions in this intimate and personal account of one of the century's climactic events. His chronicle includes interesting vignettes, and his depiction of the abortive 1991 attempt to overthrow Gorbachev is compelling. Nevertheless, perspective and a sense of the monumental are hidden in ponderous, sometimes redundant detail. Of passing interest, this is suitable for popular collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/92.-- James R. Kuhlman, Univ. of Alabama Lib., Tuscaloosa
A talented reporter fluent in Russian, Remnick was among the fortunate journalists who could begin to try, as the Soviets lifted the incubus of censorship, to conduct an American-style journalism of hard news, analysis pieces, and profiles. Remnick tells how he got through to Stalinist fossil Lazar Kaganovich (who was not amused); talked with Nina Andreyeva (a 15-minute wonder and cat's-paw of reactionaries); and interviewed hundreds of less prominent personalities during his 1988-91 posting at the "Washington Post"'s Moscow bureau. Remnick sections his material thematically, presenting people-in-the-news vignettes as the Soviet Union first unveiled its sinister past, shed its torpor, then shook under the enthusiasm of democrats, coal strikers, Jew-baiters, and nationalists, before the rotten edifice crumbled in the inebriated coup attempt. Under the predilection-- inescapable for journalists writing under deadline--for playing up the near-term problems of the people and their dreary, muddy surroundings, Remnick's text vibrates with the energy of a revolutionary moment in history, a street-heat feel that definitive historians of the future will want to sample. For the moment, it inherits that popular readership established by previous reporters' reflections on their Russian tours of duty, and the coast-to-coast publicity will surely bestir it.
New York Times Books of the Century
He argues convincingly that what died in the old Soviet leadership...was its unending assault not only on people but on memory.
It's hard to imagine any book on the last years of Communism in the Soviet Union surpassing this one by Remnick, who covered the events for The Washington Post. Remnick's story is about far more than simply the economic failure of Communism. For 70 years, he emphasizes, history in the Soviet Union had been the instrument of the Communist Partyand "history, when it returned, was unforgiving." From his own travels, and from conversations with former Soviets at every level of society, Remnick conveys unforgettably the impact of that history. There's the testimony of General Volkogonov, who as a historical researcher and loyal Party member found that on just one day, December 12, 1938, Stalin, after signing the death sentences of about five thousand peopleincluding many the Soviet dictator knew personallywent to his personal theater and watched two movies, including Happy Guys. There's the story of the man Remnick met in Magadan, that "gulag boomtown," who as a young boy lived in a house close to the port, from which long lines of prisoners marched toward the camps scattered for hundred of miles throughout Kolyma. The author spoke to people of every kindfrom Politburo leaders to bums in the street; from Gorbachev's first girlfriend to simple people still passionately dedicated to the memory of Stalinand he has an almost poetic ability to convey character and scenes economically and vividly: One ideologist, he says, "looked like a teacher who specialized in handwriting and never gave an A." Commenting on his findings, Remnick notes that, today, "the fate of Russia hinges, once more, on the skills, inclinations, and heartbeat of one man. This time it is BorisYeltsin...No one knows what would happen should Yeltsin fall from power...The institutions of this new society are embryonic, infinitely fragile." Brilliant, evocative, riveting.
From the Publisher
An engrossing and essential addition to the human and political literature of our time." —The New York Times
The most eloquent chronicle of the Soviet empire's demise published to date.... It is hard to conceive of a work that might surpass it."—Francine du Plessix Gray, Washington Post Book World
"An eloquent and riveting oral history of an epochal moment of change." —Michael Ignatieff, The Los Angeles Times
"Remnick ... has achieved a very rare feat: to make the reader feel he has been present himself at a great turning point in history. It is a stunning book, moving and vivid from the first page to last." —Robert A. Caro
"Utterly absorbing.... If you did not have the opportunity to witness the Soviet empire in its death throes, Lenin's Tomb will take you there." —Jack F. Matlock, Jr.