Lenin’s Brain

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Tilman Spengler, editor of the journal KURSBUCH and a historian of science, employs real people and events in his first novel, an account of the career of Dr. Oskar Vogt. LENIN’S BRAIN, a bestseller in Germany in 1991, pokes fun at scientific fads from the 1890’s to World War II, while criticizing the absurd uses to which science is sometimes put for political purposes.

Vogt, a rather nondescript little man, believes he can locate and identify the brain cells responsible for genius. After years of research throughout Europe, culminating in his appointment as director of the Brain Research Institute in Berlin, Vogt is given, by the Soviet government, possession of the brain of V. I. Lenin in hopes of his offering scientific proof of the political theorist’s genius. Years of slicing Lenin’s brain into thousands of segments results only in Vogt’s conviction that Lenin’s genius came from the pyramid-shaped cells in his brain. Vogt ignores conflicting evidence that these cells are the product of syphilis.

Spengler attacks the type of scientist who experiments on World War I soldiers with head wounds and mocks those who long to dissect Lenin’s brain not only before his death but even before he is ill. National Socialism is also held in ridicule: Vogt’s research is moot since Adolf Hitler has declared all German Aryans to be geniuses. Unfortunately, Spengler burdens his novel with so many seemingly unrelated characters and subplots that it is often extremely difficult to follow what is transpiring, and Vogt is made too foolish to care about.