Chocolate Lenin: A thriller with chocolate and rum

Chocolate Lenin by Graham DiamondChocolate Lenin by Graham Diamond

The Russian Federation is planning to celebrate its 25th Anniversary Jubilee, and Vlad Petrovsky is at the center of the public relations effort. It’s a plum assignment; long hours away from his family and dealing with crisis after crisis will all be worth it to Vlad if he succeeds. In the midst of this, he is pulled away from his assignment and tasked by the Prime Minister himself to support a vital, secret mission that threatens the future of all Russia.

At the center of Chocolate Lenin is a race against time to prevent a scientifically reproduced version of Vladimir Lenin from instigating another revolution. A special team of scientists, police, secret agents and the likable Vlad has been cobbled together to counteract a brilliant scientist’s radical plot to use Lenin to bring down Russia. The elements of the pursuit read like a thriller as the team works to track down the rogue revolutionary and his supporting cast. The disparate strengths and weaknesses of this ad-hoc team, coupled with the maneuvering of high-level politicians, add realism to the plot. Let’s face it, who doesn’t expect a politician to leverage a disaster to further his own career?

Graham Diamond’s writing is fine, and his understanding and knowledge of both Russia and current politics really adds a lot to the story. While I am not a fan of investigative thrillers as a rule, I have to give Graham Diamond a lot of credit for creating tension, and for leveraging both known and emerging tools like social networking as means to disseminate unrest and call for revolution. The exact science of bringing Lenin back remains carefully opaque, but its heart is the mythical combination of chocolate and rum.

On the whole I found Chocolate Lenin to be passable. While I would not race out to buy another book like Chocolate Lenin, readers whose taste runs more to thrillers will likely enjoy it more.

~John Hulet

At the heart of Graham Diamond’s social satire Chocolate Lenin is a bit of sparkling whimsy: the cloning of Vladimir Lenin with chocolate. The newly reanimated political leader, who has a mixture of premium chocolate and rum coursing through his veins, is a confectionary golem in a dystopian Russia. As one character says, “Has everyone gone mental?…  Are we chasing a walking, talking chocolate bar?”

Despite this original, promising premise, I didn’t enjoy Chocolate Lenin. I thought the pacing was wrong and that the book had an identity crisis. It wanted to be a satire and a techno-thriller, and because of that confusion, it failed at both.

A few years in the future, Russia is preparing for a 25 year Jubilee. Vlad Petrovsky is the director of the nationwide celebration. He is approached by his old friend Boris, a former KGB operative, about strange goings-on at the Alexander Nevsky Chocolate Factory. Everyone knows that the factory is a cover for a top-secret project meant to be the Jubilee’s crowning glory: a clone of Lenin. Unfortunately, the scientist in charge of the project has gone rogue and animated Lenin, and Lenin has escaped. He is running around the Russian countryside inciting the workers to revolt.

Petrovsky is added to a top secret team designed to find and stop Chocolate Lenin. The team includes the inscrutable Boris, scientist Alina Vera Galina, career army man Colonel Dimsky and Asher Titlebaum, another brilliant scientist who left the university to become a rabbi. Helping Lenin are a pair of mercenary sisters, an expatriate chess master and the arrogant scientist who created the clone.

The book is slightly over 300 pages long, and in the last 80 pages it brims with wild, funny scenes and satirical descriptions. There is a riot in a Russian city and a food fight at the United Nations. An upper-crusty Parisian wedding is destroyed by chocolate gone wild. Titlebaum and Galina develop the ultimate weapon to kill a chocolate Lenin, while the team uncovers even more schemes, ones that involve the Prime Minister of Russia, the Russian president and a sinister multinational corporation known as “the Mouse Universe.”

The ideas in the last quarter of Chocolate Lenin are clever, but the story drags. The characters have no compelling personal motivations, and most of the important scenes happen offstage. Our secret team sits around, smoking, and gets reports or watches events on screens, often delivering long expository monologues. In one case a character delivers the same monologue about the evils of the internet and social networking twice. Dr. Titlebaum and Alina Vera Galina work frantically in the lab to create the super-weapon, but we see none of that. Once or twice we see Lenin, and these are the best scenes in the first two-thirds of the book.

Even though the book improves, the real climax is never seen by the reader, only discussed by the characters while they have a celebratory picnic at the end of the book.

When Diamond is being whimsical the book is at its best. He has some fun with names (Rimsky-Kimsky and Dimsky; President Stroganoff; and the enigmatic American Floyd Dingus, scion of the strange and ubiquitous Dingus family). Mostly though, there is not enough humor or anywhere near enough action (internal or external) to carry a reader through this book.

Another obstacle is Diamond’s careless prose. Some of his word choices are outright baffling. I am going to give a couple of examples, and please understand I didn’t comb through the book and “cherry pick” the occasional weak sentence:

He leaned forward stroking his beard, an ardent expression in his indecipherable eyes.

What woman could be expected to be content living with a part-time husband, and then suddenly have to accept him as a nonexistent partner?

[Huh? I think this means, “It’s tough on a marriage when the husband travels a lot for his work.”]

“We’ll be globally stigmatized if they find we’re propping up a phony dummy.”

I could not read more than three pages at a stretch without stumbling over a sentence like those.

The book makes mention of the Occupy movement, which is just a year old, so the likely explanation for the bad writing is simply that Diamond rushed through this book, allowing himself no time for a rewrite.

I wish Diamond had taken more time with this interesting idea. I wish he had created characters that had desires, flaws and internal contradictions, and shown us the action onstage. As it is, I think Chocolate Lenin is a great idea that suffers from poor execution.

~Marion Deeds

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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

View all posts by John Hulet (RETIRED)

One comment

  1. Good review John!
    I don’t read thrillers very often either, but this one does sound interesting. Russian history has always been an area of interest also, so I may have to check this one out eventually.

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