Leon Rozental-ten and a half, intellectually precocious, and possessing a disarming candor-is suddenly alone after the death of his nuclear physicist father and the arrest of his mother during the Stalinist purge of Jewish doctors. Now on his own and hiding from the NKVD in the secret rooms of the House on the Embankment, the massive building in Moscow where many Soviet officials and apparatchiks live and work, Leon starts to explore. One day, after following a passageway, Leon meets Koba, an old man whose apartment is protected by several guards. Koba is a high-ranking Soviet official with troubling insight into the thoughts and machinations of Comrade Stalin.
In this taut and layered novel, New York Times bestselling author Robert Littell deploys his deep knowledge of this complex period in Russian history and masterful talent for captivating storytelling to create a nuanced portrayal of the Soviet dictator, showing Stalin’s human side and his simultaneous total disregard for and ignorance of the suffering he inflicted on the Russian people. The charm and spontaneity of young Leon make him an irresistible narrator-and not unlike Holden Caulfield, whom he admits to identifying with-caught in the spider’s web of the story woven by this enigmatic old man.