Monday, April 28, 2008

"Child 44"

Tom Rob Smith is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel, Child 44.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book and reported the following:
“Even though it had been his place of work for the past five years, Leo had never felt comfortable in the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the MGB.”

Page 69 is the reader’s first glimpse of the Lubyanka, the infamous secret police headquarters located in the heart of Moscow, close to the Kremlin. I was determined from the outset of writing not to sidetrack into lengthy descriptions of buildings. Child 44 is not a guidebook nor is it a history yet elements from both were needed in order to slice open an unfamiliar world. The problem was how to do that without either slowing the pace or creating distance between the reader and the location. The world needed to feel present and active, not tagged and observed.

In the preceding pages the main character, Leo Demidov – a zealous MGB officer, has been engaged in a brutal chase for fugitive Anatoly Brodsky. Anatoly had been hiding in a remote rural village, in a friend’s farm. During the police search Leo’s deputy savagely executes Anatoly’s friend for collaborating with a suspect. Leo is shaken by the experience. Returning to the Lubyanka, he evaluates the building:

“…to his mind there was something about the building itself which made people uneasy, as though fear had been factored into the design. He accepted his theory was non-sense insofar as he knew nothing of the architect’s intention.”

Leo’s newly sprung anxiety regarding his profession offered an opportunity for him to regard his place of work with fresh eyes, in so doing collapsing the space between the reader and the character – in effect, we were all looking at the building for the first time.

He questions whether there is something intrinsically unsettling about the building or whether the unease it triggers stems from the way in which the building had been used. It is a question he cannot answer since, as he admits, he knew nothing of the architect’s intention. So, why does he even ask it? Because this questioning prefigures Leo’s crisis of faith in a much larger structure – the State. Is Soviet Communism intrinsically flawed, or has it been corrupted? In the end, does that distinction even matter –

“Perhaps the Lubyanka hadn’t been constructed with fear in mind, but fear had taken over all the same, fear had made this former insurance office its own, its home.”
Read an excerpt from Child 44, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue