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The only way Russia can be eliminated from this war is by internal conquest."" That's the 1917 opinion of Germany's top intelligence men, so agent Caspar Ehrler is sent to Switzerland to create some unanimity among the expatriate revolutionaries there (including moody Lenin) and then to supply the money and expertise needed for a really full-scale Russian Revolution. This suits Caspar fine, since he's an idealistic Marxist, and he's soon even happier when one of the rebels, Sonya Karpinskaya, becomes his enthusiastic bedmate. But smoothing out the differences among the Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, Ukrainian nationalists, and others is tough going. And toughest of all is suspicious, uptight Lenin, without whom the plan is impossible; to win him over, Caspar must pose as an eager young revolutionary courier, even though he personally thinks that Lenin (who doesn't feel Russia is quite ripe yet for revolution) is a destructive opportunist: ""He borrows the ideas of others and uses Marx to bolster up his arguments."" Eventually, however, notwithstanding British and Tsarist attempts to assassinate the revolutionaries, Caspar does manage to get the key rebel leaders on a train headed, by a secret route, into Russia. Will Lenin make it to Petrograd in time to start the Russian Revolution--despite Sonya's being tortured, interrogated, and raped by her Tsarist arch-enemy? despite an assassin gunning for Lenin? Of course he will--but not before revealing to a thoroughly disillusioned Caspar just how ruthless he really is. An intriguingly imagined slab of pseudo-history, but it's strangely sluggish in the telling (padded with scenes of Petrograd in disarray), and only those familiar with the period will find it as compelling as general readers have found Sela's previous, zippier wartime inventions.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1979
Publisher: Dial