Conspirator: Lenin in Exile is reviewed by Beat’s resident book reviewer Carol Dixon-Smith
Its feels somewhat banal to say ‘I love history’ – but I do. Yet like most history readers, there are eras and topics I avoid or have no interest in whatsoever. For me, Russia is one such topic, so being asked to review Conspirator: Lenin in Exile I almost said no. I changed my mind when I realised Helen Rappaport was the author. Two years ago, I read another of her books, No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War, which hooked me on page one, then informed, touched and amused to the end, but I was sure I wouldn’t like Conspirator..
We start in 1887 when Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) was studying for his school exams and his older brother Aleksandr was hanged for his part in the failed assassination attempt on the Tsar. We follow Lenin in exile as he lives hand to mouth, tracked and watched by the secret police and others, moving from city to city across Europe, often at a moment’s notice and dependent on the help and protection of friends and supporters. Rich in fascinating detail, for example we are told that at the time of Aleksandr’s execution, hanging in Russian was slow strangulation at the end of a rope, Helen draws a vivid picture of Lenin’s life in those seventeen years. Poverty stricken, insecure, and existing in the shadows, he continued to work tirelessly, writing and debating, and risking everything to get works smuggled into Russia. In all of this Lenin was supported by the several women in his life – his wife, mistress, mother and sisters. Helen also examines the effect this uncertain life had not just on Lenin, but also on these women, until his return to Russia in 1917.
Helen’s work, such as No Place for Ladies, has a high degree of academic research, yet her style of writing is easily accessible, something other writer’s of history could do well to note. Conspirator, happily, has that same mix and whether you have a keen interest in Russia or not, this is a fascinating insight into arguably one of the most significant men of the twentieth century. I recommend it highly.
Carol Dixon-Smith reviews all kinds of books for Waterstones and they can be found here
More about Helen Rappaport can be found here: www.helenrappaport.com
Helen lists her Top Ten books on Lenin for the Guardian
Conspirator: LENIN IN EXILE
published by Hutchinson in the UK on September 3rd 2009, and in the US by Basic Books on April 3rd 2010