Month: June 2019

vlThe dissolution of the United Soviet Social Republics (USSR) remains one of the most important and world changing moments in history.  The lowering of the hammer and sickle on December 26, 1991, was the end of seventy-four years of Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe.  But the remnants of the Soviet Union can still be found today and the ghost of its founder,  Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870-1924), continues to haunt Russia. In Red Square, Moscow, Lenin’s corpse remains on permanent display and is maintained by a full-time staff of technicians.  To believers in the old-guard and Marxism, Lenin is the eternal leader of the Bolshevik revolution. To his detractors, he was madman who unleashed a wave of terror and was  outdone only by his successor Joseph Stalin (1878-1953). Undoubtedly,  Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron grip built upon fear, intimidation and murder.  But those tactics were not new methods of operation, having been in use long before he took power.  During the reign of the Soviet Union, information regarding Lenin’s private life was kept secret and only the most privileged of researchers were able to see any official records.   The passage of time and change in attitudes had resulted in the disclosure of Soviet records that many thought would never be revealed.  The thaw which began with Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) has allowed the world to learn the truth behind the Iron Curtain.  Author Victor Sebestyen has taken another look at Lenin’s life in this well-researched and revealing biography of the iconic and infamous Soviet leader.

It is not a requirement but I do believe that basic knowledge of the former Soviet Union will make the book even more enjoyable to the reader.   There are many figures in the story, some of whom became pivotal figures in Soviet and world history.  From the start, the book is intriguing and the author’s writing style sets the perfect tone for the book.  Furthermore, at the end of each chapter are the footnotes which help aid the reader in following the narrative and developing a mental picture of the tense political climate that existed in Russia at the beginning of the 1900s.

Prior to reading the book, I had learned a significant amount of information regarding Lenin’s life but the story told here is simply astounding. Sebestyen leaves no stone unearthed, fully disclosing the sensitive parts of Lenin’s life including his marriage to Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya (1969-1939) and relationship with Inessa Armand (1874-1920).   And as the author points out, Nadezhda or “Nadya”,  was a supportive and valued voice in Lenin’s circle.  Her comments throughout the book shed light on Lenin’s very private side and her commitment to the revolution and Lenin’s ideology made her a celebrated figure in her own right.  She remained committed to Lenin after his death and up until her own in 1939.

Lenin’s early life is examined in through detail and reveals an interesting figure but highly unorthodox and complex.  Ideology becomes a major focus of his life and his series of odd jobs come to an end when he finds his true calling as the man destined to lead the Bolshevik Revolution. But his path to get there had many obstacles along the way and it is his time away from Russia that is just as interesting as his time in Russia.  As would be expected, his service as chairman is the crux of the book and Sebestyen delivers the goods.   Sensitive readers should be aware that there are very disturbing events that take place and in their graphic detail here, they may prove to be too upsetting for some.  But the author reveals them so that we may learn the truth about Lenin.  In the title of the book, the author refers to him as a “Master of Terror”.  I believe the title was earned and this book is proof of it. His deeds have been overshadowed by those of his successor but Lenin was a master in his own right and I have no doubts that Stalin took many notes.  Death, deception, lies and even pilferage are part of the Soviet story, serving as pillars in the foundation upon which Lenin and his party established their system of brutality.   Their acts were so surprising in some instances, that even after having finished the book, I am still shaking my head in disbelief.  And to say that anarchy ruled, might be an understatement.

Sebestyen carefully follows Lenin’s rise and the formation of the Soviet Government.  From the start, all was not well and cracks in the facade immediately began to form.  The fragility of the coalition is on full display, allowing readers to grasp the unstable nature of Soviet politics and how quickly friends could turn into enemies.  Jealousy, egos and diverging interpretations of true Marxism severed friendships, raised suspicion and helped create an atmosphere of distrust that remained with the Soviet Union for the next seventy years.  And even today,  Russia and the independent republics, sometimes struggle to to stand completely removed from the dark legacy of the USSR.

One subject which has always been up for debate is Lenin’s untimely demise at the age of fifty-four.  His condition at the time was somewhat puzzling to doctors but all agreed that it deteriorated quickly.   Sebestyen clears up a few rumors surrounding Lenin’s death but there is a slight chance that some details regarding Lenin’s death still remain hidden. However, I do believe the author presents a solid analysis of what contributed to his death based on facts and not mere speculation.  Readers who are expecting to find any evidence of a conspiracy will disappointed.  No such theories are presented or even acknowledged, keeping the book on track all the way until the end.

The existence of Lenin’s tomb is both a testament to his influence over Russia and his inability to envision a future without himself.   He could have never imagined the heights that the Soviet Union would reach over time nor could he have pictured its downfall.   I think he may have mixed feelings to know that today in 2019, people are still interested in his life, one that he was willing to devote to the success of the Soviet empire.  In death, he became eternally etched into the Soviet experience and he remains one of history’s most polarizing figures.  This biography is nothing short of excellent.

B06WLJZNBH

Biographies Uncategorized

Ugod_RawIn 1993, Loud Records released an album that re-defined the rap music genre.  A group of nine lyricists from the borough of Staten Island in New York City joined together and created Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The album was a smash hit and before long, millions of hip-hop fans knew the names of each member by hard.  As a New York City native, I remember when the single Protect Ya Neck was released and the buzz surrounding this new group that was in your face, raw and uncut. To some, the group was just another rap entourage from the streets, that was profane and too rough around the edges for mainstream society.  But to fans, they represented a new concept and sound that no one had ever seen before from rap artists.  The latter won out and through many albums, tours and even television appearances, the group cemented their legacy as one of rap’s greatest acts.  But for all of the glitz and glamour, there also existed a behind-the-scenes story that was playing out in ways that no fan could have ever guessed.

Lamont Hawkins, known as “U-God”, is one of the founding nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan.  In this gripping autobiography that is the first book by any member of the group, he opens up about his life as a young kid in New York City who grows into a young man and becomes part of music history.   Readers sensitive to profanity should be aware that there is plenty to be found here.  Hawkins speaks in a very frank manner but at the same time, gets his points across very clearly and drives them home with the right amount of force.  Putting aside the strong language, the story is seductive right from the beginning.  The book is so interesting that I finished it in forty-eight hours.   The story picks up pace from the beginning and never slows down.  It is an unbelievable roller coaster ride and fans of the Wu-Tang Clan will absolutely love this book.

I do believe that even those readers unfamiliar with rap, Hawkins or Wu-Tang will still be able to enjoy the book.  His story is much more than just recording songs.  This is also the story of personal triumph from a life that could have easily taken a much different path.  Younger readers may find some of the anecdotes regarding New York City hard to believe. But anyone who lived in New York during the 1970s, 1980s and even 1990s will easily recall the era when New York City was nearly bankrupt and crime was all over the Five Boroughs.  Subway graffiti, burned out and semi-destroyed buildings littered parts of the city. Poverty, drugs and an astronomical murder rate made New York City one of the most dangerous places on earth. I vividly recall those days as a young kid growing up in East New York, Brooklyn during the 1980s.  But my life was far different from Hawkins and his story will blow your mind.

Struggle is the best word I can think of to describe his early life.  But his trials and tribulations also extended to the other members of the group and Hawkins introduces them into the story as the Wu-Tang Clan is slowly formed.  The Park Hill housing complex figures prominently throughout the early part of the story, serving as home for several group members.  Murders, shootings and drugs were a part of their daily lives and it was from this system of mayhem, that they sought to escape.  Success finally does arrive but even then, personal demons followed the group like a dark cloud.  But in time, they each are able to focus on the bigger picture and find their way out of the ghetto.  Hawkins is our narrator and his observations about life on the streets as a drug pusher, his fellow band members and being aspiring rapper are food for thought.

It is clear that at his age now, Hawkins is seasoned and sees things through a much clearer lens.  But he has never forgotten where he has come from and his rough and rumble background are what have shaped his unfiltered approach that surely is “raw”.  As a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, this book showed another side to the group that I did not of before.  Twenty-six years have passed since they released their debut album but it still sounds as good as it did then.   Each band member has their own style and appeal but without each, Wu-Tang could have never existed.  And what many of us who are fans may not have known, is that one of the anchors of the group is the man we have come to know as U-God.   Hip-hop fans will find this book to be a true gem.

ASIN: B074ZLTDJG

Uncategorized