Review: Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History

cvr_lenin-on-the-train-the-journey-that-changed-the-course-of-history-by-catherine-merridaleLenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History by Catherine Merridale

MY RATING: 2/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Author Catherine Merridale became known for authoring several works involving Russian history. “Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History” became her newest book. Its basis relied upon the premise that the author travelled the same train tour as V.I. Lenin did to give his speeches and rally followers for revolution. “In April 1917, at the height of the First World War, the exiled leader of the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, travelled back to Russia by train” (5); he had developed himself into a revolutionary with the intension of transforming the government via appealing to class struggle.

Merridale wasted no time getting to the rail station in order to begin Lenin’ s tour. But the pre-history would have better developed the story, properly setting the stage for what happened next. She rushed past the 1905 “Bloody Sunday” event, thereby downplaying its significance in the lead-up to the 1917 Revolution. I wished that she had delved into Rasputin’s power over the royal family, coupled with their excesses and assassination(s).  The author adeptly covered the effect of WWI on the country, and this was undoubtedly an incredibly important factor in understanding the mindset of many Russians.  From the impoverished to the bourgeoisie, and up through to royalty, Lenin also achieved a comprehensive understanding of the Russian mindset, which proved valuable in allowing him to develop highly-targeted speeches as his trip progressed.

Lenin on the Train” provided an in-depth approach, or micro-historical account, of a vital facet to the 1917 Russian Revolution. “For almost every socialist who witnessed it, what was happening in February 1917 was a march towards democracy and liberal reform” (225). “Socialism, which required the people take control of everything from economic life to war and peace, was not thought to be possible in a land of boorish peasants. In private, moreover, a good many socialists in Petrograd had been more than a little terrified of responsibility in any form” (225). Merridale’s work delved into these challenged and many others in a manner that reflected her thorough understanding of that historical era. My favorite components of her book that reflected her in-depth knowledge existed as follows:

1. The V.I. Lenin quotes set the tone for each chapter.
2. Notes regarding Russia’s calendar compared to that of Europe enabled the reader to understand travel time and date complexities.
3. A detailed map tracing Lenin’s train route created an additional way to engage the reader.
4. Details pertaining to the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, coupled with threats to the revolution, increased the story’s depth.
5. Stories of Germany’s and Britain’s influence increased the sense of international intrigue.
6. Feuds between Lenin and others demonstrated that his mission did not become easily achieved.

While the aforementioned numbered points served as my favorite aspects of the book, overall I experienced struggles in reading the compendium. There was a lot of back-and-forth in time, that I did not find to be respective to the calendar issue cited in the author’s “Notes on Text.” The dates seemed like they were thrown around without respect to a clearly delineated timeline. Dialectology challenges caused the writer’s style to come across as clunky, stuffy, and dry. Expression not typically encountered in the United States compounded these issues, for example:
1. The happy fortune of that lot must have made Switzerland seem more than ever like the white wolf’s wretched cage” (134). 
2. “Lenin had worked up an appetite, and back in the Regina’s dining room he tucked into a steak…” (197)

Additionally, I found that transitions between paragraphs seemed rough, while sentences within them did not always belong together. Unfortunately, despite the author’s delivery on her promises and demonstrated subject matter knowledge, I ultimately found this book to be difficult to enjoy and finish.