Detroit Free Press
Favorite niece's bio shows the human side of Brezhnev
Review by Charles Mitchell
For 28 years, until his death in 1982, Leonid Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union. So secret was his private life that it was not until his funeral that the CIA was even sure Brezhnev had a living wife. Most Soviets were in the same boat.
While we in the West probe so deeply into the peccadilloes of our politicians, the Russians knew little about the private lives of their leaders. For most Westerners, Brezhnev was a Soviet stereotype - a bushy eyebrowed, ruthless, power-hungry communist.
No one ever knew that "Uncle Leonid" had a heart, a soul, a bevy of mistresses and a penchant for crying frequently and uncontrollably over the unrequited love of his selfish children.
The "World I Left Behind" by Brezhnev's favorite niece, Luba, is a startling first person look at the life-style of the Soviet elite - from their specially stocked department stores and drunken orgies to their obsession with making a fast ruble.
Luba, the daughter of Brezhnev's brother and confidante, Yakov, was plucked from the backwater of Dnepropetrovsk and whisked to Moscow to take her place among the communist elite's "brat pack" - the favored offspring of the power brokers and party hacks. They had limousine service at their disposal, places in the most elite Moscow schools and were always graded at the highest levels because of who their fathers, or in Luba's case, uncle, were within the Communist Party.
(Despite their contacts in the party, or perhaps because of them, they were constantly harassed by the KGB, which bitterly despised these good for nothing communist kiddies.)
Luba is not an apologist for her uncle; her book contains the required self-serving condemnations of the communist ideology. But she speaks fondly of her uncle and is eager for us to understand that behind the slack jowls and bush eyebrows was a man who cared deeply for his family and the Russian people. His fault, apparently, was that he was a slave to a misguided ideology that brought out the worst in the Russian people. Brezhnev's sorrow and crying fits over his nymphomaniacal daughter, Galina, whom he described as an "open sore" is the most revealing aspect of his life yet published.
The account of his final year when he was virtually incapacitated by illness is particularly fascinating. Luba claims that the Communist Party grew so tired of the weakened Brezhnev that when he suffered a mild stroke in 1982, his doctors were under orders to make no attempt to revive him. Brezhnev's family was barred from seeing him in his final hours as doctors stood by and did nothing.
Although so much has been written in recent years about the bad old days of Soviet rule, "The Life I Left Behind" is different. Luba Brezhneva's no-holds-barred account of life as one of communism's elite may actually win Leonid Brezhnev admirers.
Charles Mitchell is the Free Press foreign editor. He was a reporter in Moscow from 1986 - 1989.
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