If I had to describe Child 44 in only a handful of words, I would say: Wow, what a page turner! I picked up this book this morning before I left for school, intent on at least cracking open the novel I’ve had checked out from the library for almost three weeks. Instead, I found myself reading Child 44 everywhere — in math class after my quiz, in the car on my way to a restaurant for off-campus lunch, at the doctor’s office.
This crime thriller is located in Stalinist Russia, where “once you’re followed you’re always arrested” and “once you’re arrested you’re always guilty.” (pg. 79) And, honestly, the most interesting part of Child 44 is the setting. As an American, it’s been drilled in my head from an early age that communism is bad, democracy is good. However, in my encounters with communism, very little attention is actually given the crime and punishment side of Stalinist Russia. (We have a tendency to focus on the free market aspect.)
“How many other incidents have been covered up? We have no way of knowing, no way of finding out. Our system is perfectly arranged to allow this man to kill as many times as he likes. And he’s going to kill again and again, and we’re going to keep arresting the wrong people, innocent people, people we don’t like, or people we don’t approve of, and he’s going to kill again and again.” (pg. 253)
Leo, after realizing that a man he arrested and, therefore, sent to his death, was innocent, begins to doubt the system he has helped uphold, the cult of fear he has helped perpetrate.
“Fear was cultivated. Fear was part of his job. And for this level of fear to be sustained it needed a constant supply of people fed to it.” (pg. 70)
However, society turns on first his wife and, later, him, and Leo is forced to confess and die or resist and die. Either way, even if he tells the truth, he is guilty because the confession they will cohere out of him is an official document.
“This confession, whether fabricated or not, has been accepted at truth. It’s an official document and her name is on it. If I defend Raisa I’m contesting the validity of a State document. If they admit one is flawed then they admit all of them are. They cannot go back. The repercussions would be enormous. It would mean all confessions were up for question.” (pg. 119)
It’s a very enlightening story, and I’m very interested in learning more about Stalinist Russia. As for Smith’s book, I enjoyed how his story unfolded, and how the characters continued to change and evolve throughout the novel. Child 44 is a very fascinating novel — a real page turner — that I was disappointed to see it end. I wanted to turn another page, to see where the characters were going next and how things turned out for them in the end.
- Smith, Tom Rob. Child 44. New York, NY: Hachette, 2008. Print. 438 pgs. ISBN: 9780446402392. Source: Library.