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Book Club Reflection: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

9 May

I promise this is my last post about Child 44. I’ve already done the book review and the movie review. Last is the book club reflection. If you recall, I wasn’t a big fan of the book (mostly because of the narrator) and I thought the movie was okay but was disappointed by a few missing parts that I thought made the book bearable. It seems I was alone in my opinion because my book club found it gripping.

The scary thing is how many of the details of the murderer were real! There was a murderer known as the Butcher of Rostov who had a similar background to Leo’s brother. His name is Andrei Chikatilo and he killed from 1978 to 1990 before being executed. There was an HBO series about him called Citizen X. Reading about him in Wikipedia, it’s terrifying how similar the case Leo chased is to this man’s life story.

Tom Rob Smith was born in London and went to Cambridge. He’s written for British TV shows and found out about Chikatilo while researching for a show he was writing about. Child 44 is his debut novel.

We learned a lot about life in Soviet Russia, assuming what we read is all true. The biggest takeaway was the fear and status of a criminal state that these people lived in every day. One of our members read that the mentality of turning people in, the fear of persecution, is returning to Russia again under Stalin and this book comes at a good time to remind people how damaging that can be.

There were parts of the book that were really hard to believe. Surviving the escape from the train was a big one for us (and maybe why it was cut from the movie). Vasili ending up in the basement at exactly the right moment was a bit convenient as well. We didn’t understand why he was able to take on such a big role in the investigation in the first place. His status didn’t seem to deserve that.

I brought up my biggest complaint about the book, which was Leo’s motivation. He had no children so he wasn’t afraid for their safety: why did he begin the investigation? Why did he feel such a personal connection to these crimes? We decided he felt guilty, likely as far back as his war service. He also had a major shift in his worldview when Raisa was charged. He was traumatized by the idea that his family could be the target of suspicion and rough treatment. If that could happen to him, what else could happen in life? He wanted to do something to make the positive impact he thought he was making as a KGB. When he realized officials were lying about interrogations and that there was no virtue or honor in his position, he changed and started to see the world differently.

Raisa’s charge was a big change in the book. We wondered who turned her name in because we seriously doubted that the veterinarian actually gave her name. I thought it was his commander trying to see how far he would go for the state. Others wondered if it was Vasili or the doctor she refused to sleep with.

Leo and Raisa adopting the girls at the end seemed a little too ‘pretty,’ wrapping the story up with a nice bow on top. We thought about it and it’s a new beginning for Leo. He was adopted by two parents who originally meant to do him great harm. Leo didn’t have it out personally for the girls, but it’s easy to see why they might be afraid of him. He knew from experience that they could grow to have a good relationship. He was living proof of that.

Our next read is The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier which I’ve almost finished! I love her writing.

Until next time, write on.

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