Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
"Leo crawled over, feeling the inside of the man's mouth and pulling out a tooth still affixed to a stump of bloody gum [...] Holding the tooth, he squeezed his arm through, finding the remaining nail and continuing to pick away at the wood [...]"
There must be something very wrong with me. At least two people whose judgment I highly value and trust rated "Child 44" with four stars, whereas to me it is one of the worst books I have ever read. In fact, I had to force myself to finish reading: close to the midpoint of the book I completely lost interest and continued only to laugh at ridiculous plot twists. Then, I tossed the book altogether for a week, and finally forced myself through the numbingly moronic ending just in case a scrap of redeeming quality could be found.
"Child 44" is two very different books: one shows the unimaginable suffering of people during the Stalinist period in the Soviet Union, when tens of millions of people died of hunger or in prisons and labor camps. Most of the surviving Russians and people of various other nationalities - which amounts to hundreds of millions of people - were forever deprived of their chance for happiness in life, many of them having to resort to falsely denouncing their family members or friends just to survive. We do need such books as a warning for the future - a warning about how ideology can destroy humankind.
Then there is the other book in "Child 44" - the one about the search for a serial murderer of children, who kills and mutilates the bodies. Leo Demidov, an MGB officer, conducts a private investigation, in defiance of the entire Soviet security apparatus. Demidov is one of those superhuman beings: he undergoes conversion from a cog in the Soviet repression and torture machine to become a modern day Jesus Christ on a quest to redeem humanity. This book rivals "The Da Vinci Code" in utter ridiculousness of plot, total disregard for psychology, and reliance on superficial templates in characterizations. The simplistic, naively-drawn characters of Demidov, his wife Raisa, his archenemy, Vasili, and others belong to the world of cartoons. The plot twists come with the speed of an express train as they get more and more preposterous: the imbecility of the final twists is beyond belief.
The first book, one about the horrors of totalitarian society, is worthwhile. Yet it ends after about 150 or so pages, at which point I recommend throwing the novel away and reading Anne Applebaum's "Gulag" or one of other serious books recommended by the author in "Further Reading". The rubbish of the last 300 pages of "Child 44" irreversibly cheapens the message of the first book.
One star (actually zero, were it legal).
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