Comrade Koba: A Novel

Written by Robert Littell
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Ten-and-a-half-and two days-old Leon Rozental and his friends are on their own, scrounging for rubles to pay for meals, exploring tunnels between the House on the Embankment where they live and the city streets of 1953 Moscow, after their parents are killed or arrested for subversive activities by the Soviet secret police.

On one of his forays, Leon meets reclusive Comrade Koba, who characterizes himself as a leader of the Great Patriotic War, a member of the Politburo, and someone who could be said to actually know Stalin. Enjoying “the kid’s” direct and often pointed questions, Koba meets the boy regularly and allows him to listen to his musings so Leon can one day author the man’s autobiography.

Told from “the kid’s” perspective, Comrade Koba focuses fresh eyes on Soviet history, allowing Koba to speak candidly about capitalist peasants, Catholicism and the Pope, and the characteristics of Marx, Lenin, and other leaders. Unencumbered by the trappings of power and notoriety, Leon can ask questions that challenge the man behind the image. As a result, Koba can drop the pretense and reveal small but important details about his life to a new friend. Comrade Koba balances youthful innocence against infirmity and world-weariness with warmth, humor, and insight.