The historical context for The Secret Speech is a
presentation by Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev of a paper entitled The
Personality Cult and its Consequences, delivered to the 20th
Party Congress on February 24-25, 1956. The speech condemned Stalin, his
policies and the people who carried them out. It was called "The Secret Speech,"
because it was delivered behind closed doors and, in theory, no one outside the
room was to know of its contents (although it was widely and probably deliberately
leaked to the public). Smith's novel focuses on the wide-ranging consequences of
Like its predecessor Child 44, The Secret Speech is top-notch historical fiction showcasing Smith's excellent grasp of 1950s Soviet politics. He is particularly good at illustrating the complexities that pervaded the era; there is no black and white, decisions and...
Leo Demidov's prime antagonist throughout The Secret Speech is the leader of a Russian criminal gang known as the vory.
The vory, or more officially the vory-v-zakone, is a criminal organization that arose in the gulags during the Stalin years. Over time this group has morphed into a powerful international organization referred to as the Russian Mafia. (The 2007 movie Eastern Promises, starring Viggo Mortensen, concerns a modern-day vory cell in London.)
Vory-v-zakone translates as "Thieves in Law" i.e., thieves who follow a code. The organization of the 1930s to mid-1950s was based on a system of discipline, tradition and rank which originated in the Soviet labor camps in the 1920s. Any activity that suggested that the state had power over the vory was forbidden. All proceeds had to be gained by theft and members were ...
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