MEMOIRS by Mikhail Gorbachev


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 An almost unprecedented event: the autobiography of a general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which is not only filled with information and assessments unobtainable elsewhere, but is also candid, wry, ready to admit mistakes, and unusually revealing about the nature of power at the top of the Soviet Union. One of the surprises may be that after a life at the center of a cold and selfish bureaucracy, there is still a human being with a profound sense of justice at the center of this narrative. This is particularly evident in Gorbachev's account of his early years. Both of his grandfathers were sent to labor camps during the purges, and one of his wife's grandfathers was executed. Even in his early years he notes, ``I wondered about a system . . . so unresponsive to renewal and innovation.'' But he is frank to say that he hid his feelings, a requirement in a party whose leaders did not even exchange personal visits because this might suggest they were plotting. He is not quite as frank about his period in power, although he freely confesses the timidity and piecemeal strategy of many of his early moves. While highly critical of the privileged group that held power, he believes that at the top level of the party there was a group ``convinced of the vital need for reform and . . . ready to accept enormous risks.'' There is almost an elegiac quality in his account of the slow dissolution of the state. He seems increasingly to have sought in foreign policy the approbation he was no longer receiving at home. And his final chapter gives a sense of someone who no longer understands his irrelevance, larded with comments like ``I expressed my readiness to be a mediator'' or ``I offered a package of proposals.'' There is a richness in this autobiography to which no review can do justice. It leaves a deep impression of a remarkable and decent human being trying to improve a system that wasn't. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-48019-9
Page count: 720pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996


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