RED MUTINY: ELEVEN FATEFUL DAYS ON THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN by Neal Bascomb (Houghton Mifflin), 386 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Ninety years ago this week, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. However, the first ripples of the Red tidal wave occurred a dozen years earlier on the Black Sea on a rebel battleship.
I'm talking about the Potemkin, the pride of the czar's fleet and the stage of the most famous mutiny since the Bounty more than a century earlier.
In Red Mutiny, historian Neal Bascomb reclaims the Potemkin story from the twists of myth and propaganda to give us a rewarding, rip-roaring high-seas adventure set against the backdrop of the unravelling Romanov dynasty.
It is 1905. Russian soldiers have gunned down hundreds of protesters outside the Winter Palace on Bloody Sunday. In the east, the Japanese admiralty has destroyed much of the Russian fleet, and Tsentralka, a seditious sailor's organization, has infiltrated what remains of the navy.
On June 14, the Potemkin's captain makes the mistake of serving the crew maggot-ridden meat. For the leaders of the revolutionary cell on board, the stinking meat is a gift. Before the day's out, the captain and several other officers are thrown overboard and the Potemkin flies the red flag of revolution.
Believing they'll draw the rest of the fleet to mutiny, the Potemkin sailors head for Odessa, where radical leaders on shore greet her as the vanguard of the revolution.
But the ship's short stay in Odessa has horrific consequences for the city. The governor, fearing the revolution is at hand, has his Cossacks open fire on the crowds of people who've gone down to the water.
When the smoke clears, more than a thousand are dead, and much of the port has burned to the ground.
And that's only the start of the Potemkin's incredible journey.