Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky

Sheila Fitzpatrick writes:

The last years of Trotsky’s life are the subject of Bertrand Patenaude’s book, and although it’s not the first time this story has been told, it remains gripping. Patenaude’s focus is on the hunt from the point of view of the hunted, not the hunter (that’s Volkogonov and Sudoplatov territory). He tells it as an adventure-cum-spy story, with an abundance of Mexican context and atmosphere (probably its strongest point) and a lot of information on the array of young assistants – some of them Stalin’s men, others American Trotskyists, the majority future memoirists – who came and went. The personal and family side of Trotsky’s life is covered in detail too, based largely on the Harvard archive and the assistants’ reports. Sometimes it reads a little like a movie in the making, as in the lead-up to the murder itself, when the murderer, Mercader/ Jacson, arrives at teatime and finds Trotsky tending his rabbits: Trotsky ‘closed the doors to the hutches, brushed off his blue denim jacket, and began to walk towards the house. Natalia accompanied them to the door of the study, which Trotsky closed behind him … Suddenly a terrible cry pierced the afternoon quiet.’

(LRB 22 April 2010)