Literature Review: Lenin's Harem

Latvia Weekly is continuing its series of reviews of books related to Latvia. This time guest writer John Christmas has looked at Lenin's Harem, a English language historical novel set in Latvia that celebrated its book launch at the United States Embassy in Rīga.

Lenin’s Harem by William Burton McCormick is a historical fiction novel set in Latvia and Russia between 1905 and 1941. This was a turbulent period spanning from the 1905 Revolution, through World War I, and into World War II.

The novel is a romantic adventure set in an accurate historical background. Of course the history includes the big events such as the wars. But more importantly for the reader, the author brings the history to life by including the details of how life was in that time period. The social structure in Latvia in those times was very different from today.

The protagonist is a Latvian-German aristocrat Wiktor who ironically winds up in the Red Riflemen. He falls in love with a Communist named Kaiva. Wiktor’s brother Otomars, who makes contrasting life choices, is a pivotal character.

The author explores the difficult choices and struggles faced by the Latvian nation and each character during a profound period. The characters face situations where it is impossible to see a clear right or wrong answer for what they should do and often are left choosing a ‘lesser evil.’ Engaging and well-developed characters make the novel truly gripping as the reader wonders what their fates will be.

After looking at the reviews posted on Amazon, I can see that some people complained that there was too much story and not enough history and others complained there was too much history and not enough story. Seems it is impossible to please everyone. I found the balance to be just perfect and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history and anyone interested in an engaging story featuring well developed characters in dramatic situations.

Lenin’s Harem was published by Knox Robinson Publishing in 2013. A Latvian translation was published by Zvaigzne ABC in 2014. Lenin’s Harem is available at bookstores in Latvia and, of course, on Amazon.

William Burton McCormick is an American author who has published short stories in Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen, and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines. He is a five time finalist for the Derringer Award, including for his short novel Blue Amber. The much anticipated thriller novel ‘KGB Banker’ featuring his most popular character, journalist sleuth Santa Ezerina, is forthcoming.

Review by John Christmas

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  1. Thanks for the critique John. And thanks for Latvia Weekly publishing the review. One small addendum: Knox Robinson Publishing is out of business, and the book was republished in English by Endeavour Media. It is also, still available in Latvian by Zvaigzne ABC.


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