A tight, captivating story of a naive child’s encounters with a Soviet dictator, the 20th novel by Robert Littell
After the sudden death of his nuclear physicist father and the arrest of his mother during the Stalinist purge of Jewish doctors, young Leon Rozental—intellectually precocious and possessing a disarming candor—is hiding from the NKVD in the secret rooms of the House on the Embankment, a large building in Moscow where many Soviet officials and apparatchiks live and work. One day after following a passageway, Leon meets Koba, an old man whose apartment is protected by several guards. Koba is a high-ranking Soviet officer with troubling insight into the thoughts and machinations of Comrade Stalin.
Through encounters between a naive boy and a paranoid tyrant, Robert Littell creates in Comrade Koba a nuanced portrayal of the Soviet dictator, showing his human side and his simultaneous total disregard for and ignorance of the suffering he inflicted on the Russian people. The charm and spontaneity of young Leon make him an irresistible character—and not unlike Holden Caulfield, whom he admits to identifying with—caught in the spider’s web of the story woven by this enigmatic old man.
Leon’s mother has been arrested by the KGB. Leon is hiding in his apartment complex, The House On the Embankment. He comes across an old man’s apartment one day. This man is heavily guarded but somehow Leon manages to meet the man and they strike up a “friendship”.
I enjoyed reading this point of view about Stalin or Koba, as he is known in this novel. It is extremely unique and interesting. I did not think the author got the children quite right though. I am not exactly sure what is missing. This story also leaves you wanting more at the end. I have mixed feelings about books which do this. However, this left enough to the imagination to determine Leon’s future.
This was not the book I expected when I started reading. I always just barely scan the blurb of a book. I saw the words Stalin and Russia and thought…GREAT… a change of pace. And this was! It was a wonderful change of pace for me. It is very well researched and rich with history. And I am a little torn with looking at Stalin the man and not Stalin the dictator. Very unique indeed.
I received this novel from the publisher for a honest review.