on 11 May 2009
David Remnick's "Lenin's Tomb" is a book about the journalist's experiences just before and during the collapse of the USSR at the end of the 1980s. Using a chronological overview, Remnick describes what the Soviet Union was like under the reign of Gorbachov (or "Gorbachev" in US spelling) and his views on the various leaders, journalists, KGB officers, bureaucrats, dissidents and so on.
Because Remnick goes almost entirely by interviews for his information, the book gives a very thorough biographical view of the times, but there is very little information on the general state of the country, economic and social causes for the collapse, and so on. Remnick's tone and style are very much like those of a tabloid investigative journalist, describing people and events mostly by way of the author's opinions and what the people he interviews look and act like. This has the benefit of giving one the impression of re-living the interactions with the famous of those years, but is far too shallow for any explanatory purpose.
Additionally, Remnick has too obvious favorites among the people involved. Gorbachov is generally shown more negatively than often in the West, but that fits the overall negative appraisal given to him in Russia. But people like Yeltsin and Solzhenitsyn are praised endlessly and can practically do no wrong, even though there are serious issues with both. Sakharov in particular is elevated literally to the level of a modern saint by Remnick: he is never mentioned without describing his "saintliness", "superior morality", and so on. Now in many of the cases Remnick's qualifications of his interviewees seem deserved, but it does get annoying after a while. Better to let readers decide whom they like than to pre-ordain all this.
Overall, the book is mostly useful as a collection of interviews of important people at the end of the 1980s, and as such it is very balanced in the kind of people interviewed. It fails entirely as anything more though, and should not be used as a serious explanatory book on the hows and whys of the USSR's collapse. And that is somewhat disappointing.