Name: One Man in His Time
Author: Nikolai M. Borodin
Borodin, Nikolai M. (1955). One Man in His Time. New York: Macmillan
Date Posted: January 31, 2013
orodin, who is the next?” whispers the professor to his assistant at the scientific meeting at Rostov. Before the meeting ends, the professor himself is called out of the hall and arrested by the secret police. A promising young colleague is torn from his career and family, charged with being a “wrecker.” Another goes mad, paints himself with red ink in the laboratory courtyard, in the belief that it will make him immune from arrest. The author of One Man in His Time, who used to inform against his colleagues as a “duty,’’ recounts the stories with relish. “Every new day,” he recalls, “would bring something fresh, exciting, dangerous.”
One Man in His Time is a brutal autobiography of an ex-Communist. It makes few of the usual apologies for its author’s past. N. M. Borodin, who went over to the British when he finally found himself in a tight spot in 1948, was a Cossack scientist. HIs story, a nightmarish documentary of Communist Russia’s bureaucratic life, suggests what sort of animals survived best in that jungle.
Out of the bloody civil war and the famine years that followed, Borodin emerged as a young “Red technician.” a microbiologist trained in Novocherkassk in the Caucasus. During the first Red famine, he had inadvertently eaten meat which turned out to be the fried flesh of murdered children. He had lectured in a church changed into a “Club of Godless Science” and learned that freedom is merely “perceived necessity.” He was soon attracted to the secret police “as an interesting state institution.” After the Chekists honored him with the title of “scientific consultant,” he grew especially fond of a line from their song— “Do not trust your friends” (he thought then, “Is it not the wisdom of life itself?”).
Borodin did a stint of work in Moscow, but seeing a prominent commissar throw himself under a passing bus helped Borodin decide that life in the south would be healthier than in the capital, and he went to Baku. Borodin might still be a Baku bureaucrat if, in 1945, the government had not summoned him to go overseas and study penicillin production. Shuttling back and forth between Russia, Britain and the U.S., Borodin forgot his resolution to stay clear of the Moscow meat grinder. His chief, Andrei Tretyakov, seemed to be on the skids. This was a premature judgment. Though his Ministry of Medical Industries was abolished, Tretyakov made a comeback as Health Minister, and lived to sign Stalin’s death certificate. In March 1954 Tretyakov finally lost his Cabinet post.
Scientists in all fields were being purged. In London, Scientist Borodin was ordered to attend a lecture just to make sure that a fellow scientist read a paper about “rotten and decadent Western pseudoscience” exactly as it had been okayed. Suddenly Borodin balked and left the hall, pretending to be ill. Shortly afterward, in August 1948, acting from “instinctive self-preservation,” Borodin renounced his Soviet citizenship and changed his name. According to his publishers, he then worked in England in a job “where his scientific knowledge [was] in full use.”