William Burton McCormick
Set in the small Baltic state of Latvia, ‘Lenin’s Harem’ is an epic and enthralling novel of love and war, which sweeps the reader and the characters through the first three tumultuous decades of the nineteenth century. William Burton McCormick brilliantly recreates the tensions and horrors of war-torn Latvia as it struggles to assert its identity and gain its independence, while being ripped apart by successive invaders and treacherous politics. McCormick’s prose has a lyricism which fascinates the reader and wards off revulsion as he steers us through the gas-filled trenches of World War One. This lyricism gives the novel a cinematic quality that reminded me of the Dunkirk scenes in Ian McEwan’s novel, ‘Atonement.’
‘Lenin’s Harem’ is told from the perspective of Wiktor Rooks, who becomes an outsider in his native country when his privileged life amongst the old aristocracy is swept away by revolution. Rooks is a troubled, but unremarkable man, and is all the more likeable and credible for his fallibility. The reader soon becomes enthralled with his uneasy search for identity, integrity and a place of belonging in a world that is drowning in a tide of war and political manipulation. His personal quest mirrors the larger struggle faced by Latvia.
But ‘Lenin’s Harem’ is also a story of hope. And thanks to McCormick’s skill, the reader always has hope for Wiktor Rooks. There is hope in the comradeship of his fellow Latvian soldiers. Hope in the love he shares with his feisty wife, Kaiva. Hope in his defiance of his family. McCormick doesn’t disappoint. In a final dramatic act of rebellion, Rooks completes his journey and discovers the man he is.