cover image Lenin's Brain

Lenin's Brain

Tilman Spengler. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (266pp) ISBN 978-0-374-18502-2

German hypnotherapist/neurologist Oskar Vogt believes he is on the verge of an earthshaking discovery--the precise location of the brain cells that are responsible for genius. Dr. Vogt's patient, famed industrialist Friederich Alfred Krupp, head of Germany's top armaments firm, promises Vogt patronage, but in return Krupp, an indiscreet homosexual plagued by scandals, demands that the doctor declare Krupp's carping wife mentally unsound and have her put away. Thus begins Spengler's brilliant, elegantly written first novel, which is both a wickedly subtle satire on the moral rot that led to National Socialism and a send-up of the mechanistic, reductionist outlook underlying much of modern psychology and science. Vogt's biggest challenge comes when the Soviet government, eager to discover if there is discernible substantiation of Lenin's genius (and to destroy the evidence of a pitifully small, soft cerebellum), invites Vogt to dissect their dead leader's brain. Back in Berlin, Vogt finds his own research institute besieged by Nazi storm troopers who suspect that he's hiding a Soviet treasure. German writer (and historian of science) Spengler's narrative, supplely translated by Whiteside, captures the hothouse atmosphere of the period's corrupt politics and equally corrupt scientific research. (Aug.)