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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  • First Published:
    May 2009, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2010, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt

1
SOVIET UNION
MOSCOW
3 JUNE 1949

During the Great Patriotic War he’d demolished the bridge at Kalach in defense of Stalingrad, rigged factories with dynamite, reducing them to rubble, and set indefensible refi neries ablaze, dicing the skyline with columns of burning oil. Anything that might have been requisitioned by the invading Wehrmacht he’d rushed to destroy. While his fellow countrymen wept as hometowns crumbled around them, he’d surveyed the devastation with grim satisfaction. The enemy would conquer a wasteland, burnt earth and a smoke-filled sky. Often improvising with whatever materials were at hand—tank shells, glass bottles, siphoning gasoline from abandoned, upturned military trucks — he’d gained a reputation for being a man the State could rely on. He never lost his nerve, never made a mistake even when operating in extreme conditions: freezing winter nights, waist deep in fast-flowing rivers, his position coming under enemy fi re. For a man of his experience and temperament, today’s job should be routine. There was no urgency, no bullets whistling overhead. Yet his hands, renowned as the steadiest in the trade, were trembling. Drops of sweat rolled into his eyes, forcing him to dab them with the corner of his shirt. He felt sick, a novice again, as this was the first time that fifty-year-old war hero Jekabs Duvakin had ever blown up a church.

There was one more charge to be set, directly before him, positioned in the sanctuary where the altar had once stood. The bishop’s throne, icons, menalia— everything had been removed. Even the gold leaf had been scraped from the walls. The church stood empty except for the dynamite dug into the foundations and strapped to the supporting columns. Pillaged and picked clean, it remained a vast and awesome space. The central dome, mounted with a crown of stained glass windows, was so tall and filled with so much daylight that it seemed as if it were part of the sky. Head arched back, mouth open, Jekabs admired the dome’s peak some fi fty meters above him. Rays of sunlight entered through the high windows, illuminating frescoes that were soon to be blasted apart, broken down into their constituent parts: a million specks of paint. The light spread across the smooth stone floor not far from where he sat as if trying to reach out to him, an outstretched golden palm.

He muttered:

—There is no god.

He said it again, louder this time, the words echoing inside the dome:

—There is no god!

It was a summer’s day; of course there was light. It wasn’t a sign of anything. It wasn’t divine. The light meant nothing. He was thinking too much, that was the problem. He didn’t even believe in God. He tried to recall the State’s many antireligious phrases.

Religion belonged in an age where every man was for himself And God was for every man.

This building wasn’t sacred or blessed. He should see it as nothing more than stone, glass, and timber—dimensions one hundred meters long and sixty meters wide. Producing nothing, serving no quantifiable function, the church was an archaic structure, erected for archaic reasons by a society that no longer existed.

Jekabs sat back, running his hand along the cool stone floor smoothed by the feet of many hundreds and thousands of worshipers who’d been attending services for many hundreds of years. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of what he was about to do, he began to choke as surely as if there was something stuck in his throat. The sensation passed. He was tired and overworked — that was all. Normally on a demolition project of this scale he’d be assisted by a team, the workload shared. In this instance he’d decided his men could play a peripheral role. There was no need to divide the responsibility, no need to involve his colleagues unnecessarily. Not all of them were as clear-thinking as he was. Not all of them had purged themselves of religious sentiments. He didn’t want men with confl icted motivation working alongside him.

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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