For five days, starting at sunrise, finishing at sunset, hed laid every charge explosives strategically positioned to ensure the structure collapsed inwards, the domes falling neatly on top of themselves. Far from demolition being chaotic, there was order and precision to his craft and he was proud of his particular skill. This building presented a unique challenge. It wasnt a moral question but an intellectual test. With a bell tower and five golden cupolas, the largest of which was supported on a tabernacle eighty meters high, todays controlled, successful demolition would be a fitting conclusion to his career. After this, hed been promised an early retirement. Thered even been talk about him receiving the Order of Lenin, payment for a job no one else wanted to do.
He shook his head. He shouldnt be here. He shouldnt be doing this. He shouldve feigned sickness. He shouldve forced someone else to lay the final charge. This was no job for a hero. But the dangers of avoiding work were far greater, far more real than some superstitious notion that this work might be cursed. He had his family to protect a wife, a daughter and he loved them very much.
. . .
Lazar stood among the crowd, held back from the perimeter of the Church of Sancta Sophia at a precautionary distance of a hundred meters, his solemnity contrasting with the excitement and chatter of those around him. He decided that they were the kind of crowd that might have attended a public execution, not out of principle, but just for the spectacle, just for something to do. There was a festive atmosphere, conversations bubbling with anticipation. Children bounced on their fathers shoulders, impatient for something to happen. A church was not enough for them: the church needed to collapse for them to be entertained.
At the front of the barricade on a specially constructed podium to provide elevation, a film crew were busy setting up tripods and cameras discussing which angles to best capture the demolition. Particular attention was paid to ensure they caught all five cupolas, and there was earnest speculation as to whether the timber domes would smash in the air as they crashed into each other or not until they hit the ground. It would depend, they reasoned, on the skill of the experts laying the dynamite inside.
Lazar wondered if there could be sadness too among the crowd. He looked left and right, searching for like-minded souls the married couple in the distance, both of them silent, their faces drained of color, the elderly woman at the back, her hand in her pocket. She had some item hidden in there, a crucifix perhaps. Lazar wanted to divide this crowd, to separate the mourners from the revelers. He wanted to stand beside those who appreciated what was about to be lost: a three-hundred-year-old church. Named and designed after the Cathedral of Sancta Sophia in Gorky, it had survived civil wars, world wars. The recent bomb damage was a reason to preserve, not to destroy. Lazar had contemptuously read the article published in Pravda claiming structural instability. Such a claim was nothing more than a pretext, a spoonful of false logic to make the deed palatable. The State had ordered the churchs destruction, and what was worse, far worse, was that the order had been made in agreement with the Orthodox Church. Both parties to this crime claimed it was a pragmatic decision, not an ideological one. Theyd listed a series of contributing factors: damage by Luftwaffe raids. The interior required elaborate renovations that couldnt be paid for. Furthermore, the land in the heart of the city was needed for a crucial construction project. Everyone in a position of power was in agreement. This church, hardly one of Moscows finest, should be torn down.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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