Gorbachev's `Perestroika' hits the big time

He didn't travel on the author's circuit. There were no late-night call-in shows. And he didn't hold signing parties for suburban housewives. Nevertheless, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's book, ``Perestroika,'' made the New York Times best-seller list last Sunday.

According to publisher Harper & Row, Mr. Gorbachev's book has sold nearly 225,000 copies in its first two printings. Publisher Michael Bessie says it is likely there will soon be a third printing of the book, which was issued Nov. 18.

One reason for the big sales is the reporting that led up to the December superpower summit: Gorbachev was on newscasts almost every night through November. And just this week, Time magazine made Gorbachev its ``man of the year,'' devoting 14 full-color pages to the reform-minded Soviet leader.

``People are fascinated by him, and I think the media have contributed to it,'' says Sidney Gross, a merchandise buyer for Doubleday in New York.

Mr. Gross says Doubleday stores reported that it was one of its most widely gift-wrapped books over the holidays.

The cash registers are likely to keep ringing over the next few weeks as well.

Once a book becomes a best seller, more stores feature it, giving the book a boost.

Bessie says he has already been informed that the book will move up next week from its 15th ranking on the Times list. The book is already ranked third on Doubleday's list of best-selling books at its 28 stores.

``Perestroika,'' the Russian word for Gorbachev's reform program, is red hot internationally, too.

Mr. Bessie calls it ``the leading best seller'' throughout most of Europe, with multiple printings in the Netherlands. The Japanese are likewise entranced.

But Marshall Goldman, associate director of Harvard University's Russian Research Center, sounds a cautionary note. When the book first appeared, he says, he rushed out and purchased a copy.

``I found it repetitive and terribly organized. You have to be a Sovietologist to understand it. He is not writing for the average American,'' he says. ``It cannot be a book that people actually read.''

Mr. Goldman says it is likely that a Soviet ghost writer penned part of ``Perestroika,'' putting together pieces of Gorbachev's speeches. ``There is no doubt these are his thoughts,'' says Goldman, ``and at least some of it is his writing.''

When it comes to the book's profits, there is a real mystery. Harper & Row signed a contract with VAAP, the Russian copyright agency, which is responsible for relationships between Western publishers and Soviet authors. In an interview with U.S. News & World Report, Bessie said, ``It's not for an inconsiderable sum - in six figures.''

Goldman says some reports have said the profits from the book are going to a cultural foundation, of which Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, is a top official.

Normally, a Soviet author would receive any proceeds in rubles. ``Is this happening to Gorbachev?'' asks Goldman.

The paperback version of the book is likely to be released before the next summit in June, Goldman hypothesizes. ``I think it will make money for the publishers,'' he predicts, leading the way for ``Gorby II.''

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