Excerpt from The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Secret Speech

By Tom Rob Smith

The Secret Speech

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Cowardice lay behind the shameful arrangement. The ecclesiastical authorities, having rallied every church congregation behind Stalin during the war, were now an instrument of the State, a ministry of the Kremlin. This demolition was a demonstration of that subjugation. They were blowing it up for no reason other than to prove their humility: an act of self-mutilation to testify that religion was harmless, docile, tamed. It didn’t need to be persecuted anymore. Lazar understood the politics of sacrifice: Wasn’t it better to lose one church than to lose them all? As a young man he’d witnessed theological seminaries turned into workers’ barracks, churches turned into antireligious exhibition halls. Icons had been used as fi rewood, priests imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Continued persecution or thoughtless subservience: that had been the choice.

. . .

Jek abs listened to the sound of the crowd gathered outside, the bustle as they waited for the show to begin. He was late. He should’ve finished by now. Yet for the past five minutes he hadn’t moved, staring down at the final charge and doing nothing. Behind him, he heard the creak of the door. He glanced over his shoulder. It was his colleague and friend, standing at the doorway, on the threshold, as if fearful of entering. He called out, his voice echoing:

—Jekabs! What’s wrong?

Jekabs replied:

—I’m almost done.

His friend hesitated before remarking, softening his voice:

—We will drink tonight, the two of us, to celebrate your retirement?

In the morning you’ll have a terrible headache, but by the evening you will feel much better.

Jekabs smiled at his friend’s attempt at consolation. The guilt would be nothing worse than a hangover. It would pass.

—Give me five minutes.

With that, his friend left him alone.

Kneeling in a parody of prayer, sweat streaming, his fingers slippery, he wiped his face, but it made no difference, his shirt was soaked and could absorb no more. Finish the job! And he’d never have to work again. Tomorrow he’d take his little daughter for a walk by the river. The day after he’d buy her something, watch her smile. By the end of next week he would’ve forgotten about this church, about the five golden domes and the sensation of the cold stone floor.

Finish the job!

He snatched hold of the blasting cap, crouched down to the dynamite.

. . .

Stained glass shot out from all around the church, every window shattering simultaneously — the air filling with colored fragments. The back wall transformed from a solid mass to a rushing dust cloud. Ragged chunks of stone arced up then crashed to the ground, chewing up the grass, skidding toward the crowd. The flimsy barrier offered no protection, swatted aside with a shrill clang. To Lazar’s right and left people dropped as their legs were knocked out from under them. Children on their fathers’ shoulders clutched their faces, sliced by whistling stone and glass shards. As though it were a single entity, a great shoal, the crowd pulled away in unison, crouching, hiding behind each other, fearful that more debris would rip through them. No one had been expecting anything to happen yet; many hadn’t even been looking in the right direction. The film cameras weren’t set up. There were workers within the blast perimeter, a perimeter hopelessly underestimated or an explosion misjudged.

Lazar stood, his ears ringing, staring at the plumes of dust, waiting for it to settle. As the cloud thinned it revealed a hole in the wall twice the height of a man and equally wide. The damage made it appear as if a giant had accidentally put the tip of his boot through the church and then apologetically retracted his foot, sparing the rest of the building. Lazar looked up at the golden domes. Everyone around him followed suit, a single question on everyone’s mind: would the towers fall? Out of the corner of his eye Lazar could see the film crew scrambling to get the cameras rolling, wiping the dust off the lens, abandoning the tripods, desperate to capture the footage. If they missed the collapse, no matter what the excuse, their lives would be on the line. Despite the danger, no one ran away, they remained fi xed to the spot, searching for even the slightest movement, a tilt or jolt — a tremble. It seemed as if even the injured were silent in anticipation.

Excerpted from The Secret Speech by Tom Robb Smith. Copyright © 2009 by Tom Robb Smith. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher

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