Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Some of the main characters of Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, David Remnick's 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning account of this transitional period, are as follows:
Mikhail Gorbachev was the last premier of Soviet Russia and also the man principally responsible for provoking its dissolution. Beginning in 1988, through his promotion of the concepts of glastnost, meaning "openness, and perestoika, which referred to the "restructuring" of the Soviet system, he hoped to revive its stagnant economy.
Boris Yeltsin was the first president of the newly formed Russian Federation, following the end of the Soviet Union. Under his direction, the introduction of a market system, including privatization of enterprise and the abandonment of price controls, although intended to provide a stimulus to the economy, instead resulted in funneling the wealth of the country into the hands of a small number of businessmen and investors, transforming the political system into an oligarchy.
Joseph Stalin was the Secretary-General and later Premier of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953, presiding as a dictator over the industrialization of the Soviet Union's manufacturing and the collectivization of its agriculture as it rose to the level a major world power. As the chief architect of a totalitarian system of tremendous scope and appalling cruelty, he remains a hauntingly potent presence for many of Remnick's interview subjects, who themselves, or whose relatives, suffered terribly during Stalin's rule.
Vladimir Lenin was a revolutionary and the first leader of the newly-created Soviet Russia, as well as the principle theoretician of that government's ideology.
Andrei Sakharov, a nuclear physicist by profession, gained world fame as a powerful voice of dissent in the Soviet Union from the early 1960s until his death in 1989. Despite relentless persecution by the Soviet authorities, he remained a tireless advocate of disarmament, human rights, world peace, and civil liberties. As Remnick well describes him, "Sakharov was just better than the rest of us. His mind worked on an elevated plane of reason, morality, and patience."
Nina Andreyeva was a schoolteacher and advocate of Stalinism who led the earliest protests against the newly-announced policies of Gorbachev. Remnick likens her to the members of the religious right in the US, who abide by deeply-rooted traditions, fearful of any change.