THE IDEALISTS by Henry Carlisle


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An intelligent retelling of one of Russia’s missed chances—to install a socialist rather than a communist government to succeed the Tsar in 1918—from a veteran writing duo. The story, based on Olga Carlisle’s own family’s experiences, alternates between awkward (but mercifully brief) commentary on the actual historical events, as narrated by daughter Marina Nevsky, and accounts of the Nevskys” role in these events. All begins in Paris of 1909: Marina, age nine, is the only child of Anna and Vasily Nevsky, the leader of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR); because of their politics, the family is living in exile. Vasily, now convinced that the revolution should be nonviolent, refuses to allow the assassination of a traitor, then moves his family to their villa in Italy. There, while Vasily refines his political message, the family entertains Max Gorky (Marina’s godfather) and rescues from a sinking yacht the treacherous dancer Tamara Sermus, who will later betray them repeatedly. Marina initially identifies with the prevailing family politics and falls in love with Dmitry, her father’s devoted disciple. But in 1917, when rioting breaks out in Petrograd and the Nevskys return to Russia confident that the SR’s time has finally come, Marina discovers that her hopes are unrealistic. The SR does hold the majority, but the high-minded Vasily is soon out-maneuvered by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. After flights to the countryside, plus betrayals that bring them all back to Moscow and hurl Marino and her mother into the Lubyanka prison, the three, with Gorky’s help, are allowed to return to exile. There, Vasily, at last understanding the brutal realities of the Bolshevik revolution, warns to no avail of the lasting consequences for Russia. Well-intentioned and well-written, but without the dramatic sweep and tension that would make this horrendous and tragic tale truly memorable.

Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20054-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999