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GORBACHEV IN HELL

11:00 PM, Nov 24, 1996 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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New Satan takes over in hell, wants to install airconditioning. That is Memoirs by Mikhail Gorbachev in brief. And brevity is a thing of which you'll have a high, fine appreciation after 769 densely printed, generously sized pages containing, in total, more than 350,000 words. Memoirs (Doubleday, $ 35) is an impressive work -- if you drop it on your foot.


Marx spoke of the ash heap of history and here it is. The prose style is appalling: "The need for major changes was in the air, as the saying goes." Perhaps the translator is an idiot. But, "Camp David is a beautiful spot in the woods, designed for recreation, with many a shady nook and sports lawns and buildings," can be blamed on no translator. The third-person voice is used to such Bob Dolerous extent that consciousness of authorship begins to fog. "Many people still suspect Gorbachev of trying to save the Party nomenklatura," appears on the page, and you think, "What witless, purblind pinko sap is writing this?" Then you remember. It's the fellow capable of penning the sentence, "My speech started off like Hamlet's famous soliloquy: 'How to deepen and make irreversible revolutionary perestroika, which on the initiative and under the leadership of the Party has been launched in our country -- this is the fundamental question . . . '" To which, if I remember my Shakespeare, Ophelia replies, "Sweet Prince, take your Prozac."


The content of Memoirs is, however, far more dreadful than the style. The book is full of lies:


Democracy can be developed under a one-party system.


To us, arms negotiations were a method of consolidating the efforts of different states in order to achieve results that would benefit all parties involved.


I absolutely reject the accusation that the Soviet leadership intentionally held back the truth about Chernobyl.


Gorbachev, however, is more than just a false witness, he is a big wind pudding and bull shoveler:


Even today I cannot reveal certain facts to the reader. Still, I can assure you that we were not bluffing. Our studies had proved that the potential answer to SDI could meet the requirements . . .


When Gorbachev isn't making up things, he's being stupid in the bienpensant manner achievable only through upper-percentile IQ test scores and years of university study. He goes to Bulgaria and says, "It seemed an Eden of orchards and flowers." He visits Western Europe and notices almost nothing except "that public education and medical services were organized more fairly in our country. And our emphasis on public transport was better . . ." And as the Soviet Union comes apart around his ears he is shocked to find, "The people seemed almost to welcome the event!" If you can imagine.


Of course, mere prevarication and intellectual impairment don't make an autobiography, not if you're a Time Man of the Decade, international peace prize-winning world statesman, and -- according to the August Vanity Fair the fellow Jack Germond most admires on earth. Therefore, Gorbachev leaves plenty of typespace for sanctimony:


My first book was a success . . . royalties were used for charitable purpose. . . . I might add that I donated both my Nobel Prize and the Fiuggi Prize -- a total of more than a million dollars -- to the same purposes.


And whining:


Right-wing circles in the West feared a renewed, dynamic and more democratic Soviet Union, offering peace and co-operation to other nations.


And score-settling:


Yeltsin, using office scissors, had simulated an attempt at suicide.


And further sanctimony:


Even when [Yeltsin] began to shower me with accusations and insults of the lowest kind . . . I never lowered myself to his level of kitchen squabbling.