THE SECRET SPEECH
BY TOM ROB SMITH
Tom Rob Smith-the author whose debut, Child 44, has been called "brilliant" (Chicago Tribune), "remarkable" (Newsweek) and "sensational" (Entertainment Weekly)-returns with an intense, suspenseful new novel: a story where the sins of the past threaten to destroy the present, where families must overcome unimaginable obstacles to save their loved ones, and where hope for a better tomorrow is found in the most unlikely of circumstances . . .
THE SECRET SPEECH
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. From the streets of Moscow in the throes of political upheaval, to the Siberian gulags, and to the center of the Hungarian uprising in Budapest, THE SECRET SPEECH is a breathtaking, epic novel that confirms Tom Rob Smith as one of the most exciting new authors writing today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tom Rob Smith graduated from Cambridge University in 2001 and lives in London. His first novel, Child 44, was a New York Times bestseller and an international publishing sensation. Among its many honors, Child 44 won the ITW 2009 Thriller Award for Best First Novel, The Strand Magazine 2008 Critics Award for Best First Novel, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. You can visit Tom's website at www.TomRobSmith.com and follow @tomrobsmith on Twitter.
READING GROUP GUIDE:
You can find information on the Reading Group Guide HERE. I also have included the discussion questions from the guide. This would make a wonderful book group choice! Another good source for your group is the Book Website which is HERE.
• Zoya and Elena’s true parents were killed by an officer under Leo’s command. Do you think Leo was morally required to take care of them?
• When Leo was a member of the state security force, it was his job to arrest many of his fellow citizens. To what degree should he be held responsible for his past actions, even though he was doing his duty and following orders?
• How do you think the political atmosphere and the role of women in society affected Fraera’s transformation from a priest’s wife to a vory leader?
• Raisa seems willing to sacrifice her relationship with Leo to save Zoya. What do you think of her decision?
• As rioting gulag prisoners prepare to execute Sinyavksy, the camp commander, he pleads that he should be spared because in addition to the terrible things he has done while running the gulag, he has also tried help when he could. “Can I not try and put right the wrongs I have done?” he asks. Should the prisoners have given him a second chance?
• Zoya ends up seeking her revenge on Leo by joining Fraera’s gang, but in doing so she hurts her little sister, the only family she still has. What do you think of Zoya’s actions?
• Leo was trained to be a devoted, loyal servant of the State, but he forged an unorthodox path for himself outside of the security services, despite the clear risk. Why do you think he was able to do this, when so many others couldn’t or wouldn’t?
• At the end of the story we meet a musician who is revered as a genius, but his work was actually stolen from another composer who died in the gulags. If he were to reveal the true source of his music, he would be exposed as a fraud and arrested as a thief. Now riddled with guilt he asks Leo, “What would you have me do?” How would you answer?
• There are many “secrets” in this story—Leo choosing to not tell Raisa what he knows about Zoya and the knife, Raisa keeping her meeting with Fraera from Leo, and Khrushchev’s Speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, are only a few—and the question of what the consequences for keeping those secrets might be plays out in ways large and small throughout. Do you feel there are situations in the book where characters were right to keep their secrets? What about the final scene with Leo, Zoya, and Elena? Should Zoya tell her sister the whole truth?
Tom Rob Smith has written a follow-up to his award winning CHILD 44 and many fans anticipated its release. Now that follow-up, THE SECRET SPEECH, is available in paperback format so that if you missed it you have a chance to experience an author who knows his craft. THE SECRET SPEECH is yet again an “edge of your seat” suspenseful novel that centers around the Soviet Union and the secretive society the people live in. Leo Stepanovick Demidov and his beautiful school teacher wife, Raisa, are the main part of the story as it focuses on their family life to begin with.
That family life is shattered when one of their two young adopted sisters, Zoya and Elena, who were the daughters of a couple murdered by MGB agents that were acting for Leo but failed to follow his orders, is kidnapped. Zoya is now 14 and has never forgiven Leo for the death of their parents. With the kidnapping, Leo is shaken because his work has now put his family in danger . While poor Leo is just trying to make a go of the family and supporting them with his detective work, he never thought his work would involve one of his girls. He gets pulled into the political crisis because the kidnapper is a woman who is a criminal and leads a dangerous gang. She evidently knows Leo and can’t forget that it was Leo who got her husband sent away. Leo must risk everything to conquer this foe and get his daughter back.
The book moved a little slower than CHILD 44 but it is still very interesting and has enough plot twists to keep you reading to find out what will happen next. There is a lot of history and politics in the story that are true so you can tell that Tom Rob Smith did a good job on his research. He even gives a list of resources at the end of the book to help those who are interested in finding out more about this subject and era. If you liked CHILD 44, you will enjoy THE SECRET SPEECH. If you didn’t read the first book, you may want to do that first because even though this story can stand on its own, it is better if you have the background from Smith’s first novel.
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