Lenin’s Balsam describes a young man’s animated search for a mysterious cream. The story takes place in Russia in the period immediately following the Cold War when fortune hunters and profiteers made their move.
Moscow 1990. Lawyer and orphan, Olaf Weber, makes a lot of money on the black market and by conning tourists. Then he meets the charming scoundrel, Alexander Perelman, who tells him that the balsam used to preserve Lenin’s body also makes wrinkles disappear. Eternal youth and immeasurable riches are within hand’s reach. Olaf must find out what the ingredients are and invest in the project.
During his search for the balsam’s secret formula, colourful figures pass review, such as Ivan the Nose, Ivan the Chin, perfume expert Maurice Maupassant and master embalmer Abrikosov. The quest begins at Lenin’s mausoleum and leads from Siberia to Vinnitsa in the Ukraine. There, with the help of his great-aunt Felicia, Olaf manages to find the formula and keep it out of the hands of an armed cleric who has been following him for months.
The recipe turns out to be simple, but completely useless: the balsam doesn’t work on living people. Olaf finds happiness, not in business, but through his love for the beautiful Masha. They move to France together where he becomes a writer.
Nothing is what it seems in this picaresque novel: the conman gets conned, the lovely lady who talks about orgies is still a virgin and Aunt Felicia turns out to have been Jewish all along.
But there is no ambiguity about the essential matters: the destructive influence of 20th century ideologies, the importance of parental love, and the author’s compassion for characters who strive after an independent existence under their control. Lenin’s Balsam is an ode to freedom and love, a compelling and moving novel about an orphaned folk and a nation adrift.