When I first heard the name of the book, I thought it was a great marketing trick: Lenin’s Harem – two words, that when combined have a whiff of the risqué, which could easily shift copies off shelves. As I soon learn, the title has nothing to do with a harem at all, and almost nothing to do with Lenin. Rather, it was the name bestowed upon a special armed unit of the Red Army whose members were truly devoted to the Bolshevik regime.
An Ambitious Undertaking
Even with this explanation, the scope of the novel is broad, leaving room for real history and drama to collide haphazardly. I assume a writer should be highly educated and courageous to deal with a period of history so stage-managed that even now it is hard to separate fact from fiction.
So the first question I ask McCormick is why he decided to mess with the revolution!
“You are right,” McCormick says, “the beginning of the 20th century is full of misunderstandings and the English speaking world doesn’t have a clear understanding of these events. People know things from history books, but I wanted to present the history involving a human character – the human aspect is what initially drives the reader in.”
Easily said, not easily done! It took McCormick seven years of research in libraries and archives to form his own view of events and to be familiar with the era in order to create a character that would be both believable and attractive to readers. “My book is a narrative historical fiction that tells the tale of a wealthy Lithuanian aristocrat who loses everything he had – his home and heritage, and ends up a member of the elite Red Riflemen of the Revolution. Along with a love affair in the book, it’s a tragic story,” he says. “As Wiktor, the main character, becomes a victim of circumstances...”
Here I stop the writer to leave some intrigue for readers.
He does, however, offer some justification for the juxtaposition of fact with fiction. “Learning from the past prevents us from making mistakes in the present or future. And because it’s historical fiction as opposed to history itself, it allows me, as a writer, to go in-depth, and when I as a historian don’t know certain facts, I, as a writer, can go further proposing my version of events.”
Who is William Burton McCormick?
The story of William Burton McCormick the writer is of interest itself. Born in the US State of Maryland and raised in Nevada, McCormick would reach the Ivy League earning degrees in computer science and ancient science at Brown University. Working in the information technology industry, he has won awards for producing video games and educational software. One day, William gave up his profitable business and decided to switch to writing! To me, I t sounds almost a crazy thing to do; something McCormick readily admits before adding there is method to his madness. “You see, we have a short time here on Earth. I’ve always been a story-teller and always wanted to become a writer, but I wanted to do it right,” he says.
So McCormick earned an MA in Novel Writing from the University of Manchester and started publishing short stories. Studying also at Lomonosov Moscow State University, he would spend time researching for Lenin’s Harem. McCormick then moved to Ukraine, completed the novel and is now contemplating his next work. As he tells it, he spends his “days researching and nights writing”, appreciating especially the creative side of the profession: “It’s a tough job – you have to concentrate all the time. That’s why in my apartment in Kharkiv I deliberately have no internet excess or cable television! What I do though, is I immerse myself in the culture – I walk out the door every day and talk to people. People often concentrate on differences between cultures and historical conditions, though, living in different countries allows you to see the similarities, universal things about people and that helps in writing.”
Having settled for now in Kharkiv, McCormick says he appreciates the intimate feel of the city and feels it is the perfect base for creating more short-stories and novels, perhaps this time with a Ukrainian twist.