Lenin’s Harem

Written by William Burton McCormick
Review by Wisteria Leigh

Lenin’s Harem takes place between 1905 and 1941 during the turbulent political and social struggles of the Russian Empire. The story begins with the Russian Revolution. Wiktor Rooks is the youngest son of a Latvian aristocrat with Baltic-German heritage. As a factory owner of considerable wealth, his father is a natural target for the local peasants. His older brother Otomars unsuccessfully tries to convince his father to hire guards. One night Wiktor’s home is set afire, and they must flee to safety.

In 1915, Wiktor, now 21, is forced to fight in the Russian Army against the Germans. One night, he steps in to save a couple of Latvian citizens from renegade soldiers and is critically injured. While recuperating, he is coerced by the Russian Army to act as a liaison and spy. His ability to converse in Latvian, German and Russian has not gone unnoticed. During this time he becomes a member of the Red Riflemen, otherwise known as “Lenin’s Harem.”

McCormick’s battleground scenes prove to be a gruesome lesson in man’s inhumanity to man. As Wiktor walks through the aftermath of destruction, the skillful, sobering imagery is equal to the best of any horror show. His observations of chemical warfare are detailed with grim precision: lifeless, stiff corpses, with gas seeking to hide in every crevice. Lenin’s Harem is an important historical fiction work that offers clarity to a complex and tumultuous time in Russian history. A prodigious and gripping read.