Ahh Leon. Like the monkey said when the train cut off his tail: “can’t be long now.” About one hundred seventy pages from the end of this fifteen-hundred-and-seventy-page tome, I decided to make dash for it. Everyone knows what’s waiting at the end of the narrative for Leon. No one can protect him from it. I sat in my chair, leaning forward on my haunches, and pushed ahead to the gruesome curtain call.
In a manner, not unlike the first otherwise inconsequential meeting with Stalin when the latter was of tertiary importance to Trotsky’s primacy, the author Isaac Deutscher solemnly pauses the narrative when Ramón Mercader, aka “Jacson” first walks on the stage at Coyoacan. Deutscher would have us believe in one incident after another, that Trotsky and Natalya sense something is not quite right about this fella.
It was twenty-eight years ago, I visited his Trotsky's final residence on Avenida Viena, there in Coyoacan. I don’t think I had more than a place-holder understanding of the man. As I probably never really had, until reading this work. And for all this time, I helplessly imagined the murder weapon to be tong-like device that had two pincers which swung closed to pick up ice and carry with both hands. Isn’t that what an ice pick is? I always imagined two simultaneous jabs into his unfortunate head. The internet is good for all sorts of things including, discerning precisely what an ice pick does look like and it is in fact, more like a hammer with pointed tip, to be wielded by one hand swinging.
And even though ‘Jacson’ was able to drive the tool more than two inches into Trotsky's skull, he did not kill the tough, old revolutionary upon impact. Trotsky fought him and insisted that the guards, who eventually came did not kill ‘Jacson’, but rather hold him so he would talk. Trotsky died a few hours later at the hospital. I didn’t learn it from within Deutscher's text but apparently Mercader spent twenty years in prison and was then exiled to Cuba in 1961, where Fidel’s government, shamefully welcomed him with honors.
It was four-thirty in the morning by the time I’d finished it all. Leon the father, Leon the husband, Leon the writer, and the revolutionary, the refugee, the sane voice of empirical reason in the center of Stalin’s hurricane of lies, all these personifications of Trotsky joined me then in my dreams for a while. I have Robert Service' biography of Trotsky on my shelf as well, and soon I’ll dive in for more. I know Service is out to take him down a notch or two and perhaps its well-deserved. I’ll let you know. But for now, I am savoring the quality of Trotsky's indomitable character in the face of Stalin and much of the rest of the world turned against him. What a remarkable fusion of intellect, purpose and character, Deutscher’s biography has portrayed.