Friday, May 21, 2010

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith.. A Review

"First, let me make clear, I'm a different person now..."
Leo Demidov

From the Publisher..."Soviet Union, 1956. Stalin is dead, and a violent regime is beginning to fracture-leaving behind a society where the police are the criminals, and the criminals are innocent. A secret speech composed by Stalin's successor Khrushchev is distributed to the entire nation. Its message: Stalin was a tyrant. Its promise: The Soviet Union will change. Facing his own personal turmoil, former state security officer Leo Demidov is also struggling to change. The two young girls he and his wife Raisa adopted have yet to forgive him for his part in the death of their parents. They are not alone. Now that the truth is out, Leo, Raisa, and their family are in grave danger from someone consumed by the dark legacy of Leo's past career. Someone transformed beyond recognition into the perfect model of vengeance."

What Did I Think? The Secret Speech was gripping, intense and a heck of a good read! I've read so many WWII books lately that I naturally gravitated to the story behind The Secret Speech- a war torn country with characters that were trying to survive the travails of war. But this war was not your typical war- this war was within the boundaries of the brutal Soviet regime- a war within itself. Secret Police, KGB, Gulags, murder, the flawed nature of men, and ultimately the unfaltering love of a mother, are what make up The Secret Speech. And I couldn't turn those pages fast enough to follow Former Secret Police Officer Leo Demidov on his journey to redemption (or so he thinks so...). Driven by his need for acceptance and the love of his family, Leo goes to amazing death defying lengths to save his family. But the revenge and hatred of one woman stands in his way... A woman Leo had taken everything from when he was part of the Secret Police...

The book opens in Moscow 1949 and the demolition of a 300 year old church. The "State" wanted it demolished. What reason? Really to show the "State's" authority, but under the false statement that the site was going to become one of the largest indoor swimming pools in the world to promote the health of "our children". We meet Lazar, a priest, who didn't look as happy as he should have and was "questioned" while he was watching the events unfold in front of him. The questions were innocent enough - on the surface, but he knew his life was in danger. Taking "the long way" he made his way home trying to throw off the scent. At home is his wife Anisya and Maxim, a 24-year-old recent graduate of Moscow's Theological Academy Seminary. What happens then will crush Anisya, change Lazar's life forever, and show what Leo Demidov is capable of as part of the Secret Police. These "4" people are the key to the personal struggles that make up the story in The Secret Speech.

The book then shifts 7 years later, with the delivery of "The Secret Speech" to the people of Moscow. The speech denounced the savage methods Stalin had used against his people in order to control the populace. And this put the burden of Stalin's policies & actions on men who carried them out- Leo Demidov, now married and the father of two girls, being one of them. The fear of retribution among Leo and the men he worked with ran high, but someone was also murdering off the guilty parties... *BTW, "The Speech" is in fact a true piece of history that Tom Rob Smith uses at the backdrop for this story. It was a speech delivered by Khrushchev, the Premier of The Soviet Union.

Tom Rob Smith's writing is great. The story flows effortlessly. It is a thriller based on Russian history, with characters that are well developed and memorable. Tom Rob Smith is able to translate the internal conflict these characters feel inside to the page, and I began to wonder myself if I would make the same choices under the same circumstances. Leo Demidov is such an interesting character that I hated at first, but then saw other sides to him that peaked my interest. He's flawed, but struggles with his own personal morals in the flawed society he's living in. Leo is also a character in Tom Rob Smith's first book, Child 44, and he returns in the next book, A New World, due to be published Feb. 2011.

There is so much material here for a great reading group discussion! What lengths would you go to protect your family? Can a person redeem himself after so much deception? How can you make a choice between your spouse and child? Here is the Reading Group Guide for The Secret Speech. Here is the official website for book. Listen to an Excerpt. Listen to a Podcast with Tom Rob Smith! And enjoy reading a Q & A with the author too!

*I want to Thank Valerie of Hachette Book Group for sending along a copy of The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith to review! Thanks Valerie, it really grabbed my attention!

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