Better Dead Than Red or Better Red Than Dead

20 Jan

Tom Rob Smith’s new novel Agent 6 (Grand Central) completes his so-called Child 44 trilogy (Child 44,The Secret Speech) and features hero of the Great Patriotic War and disenchanted ex KGB Leo Demidov who fails prey to a old and tired war horse plot line (which I will not spoil by revealing here) and ends up in on a fool’s mission in Afghanistan and New York some 30 years after we first meet him in Stalin’s Moscow.

While having the weakest plot line of the trilogy that does not greatly detract from the great strength of Smith’s narrative. Which is the solid verisimilitude (reviewers like to call this feature being, “highly atmospheric”)he presents of life under the dreariness of Soviet oppression.

For example, Demidov’s teenage daughter, Zoya is on a cultural exchange trip to New York and she is watching with great wonder, television, in what is to her, an opulent hotel room:

…Even better than the cartoons or the music were the programs that ran in between shows. These shorts were no more than thirty seconds each. Sometimes they featured men and women speaking directly into the camera. They spoke about cars, silverware, tools and gadgets. This one featured a busy restaurant in which children laughed while being served wide glasses willed with ice cream, chocolates sauce and fruit. It was followed by a second short, this one with images of house, impossibly large for a single family,more like dachas than houses.except unlike dachas, which were situated in the countryside, many of these large houses stood side by side, with m=neat lawns and children playing. And every house had an automobile. There was a program featuring devices to chop carrots and potatoes and leeks and turn those vegetables into soup. There were face creams for women. There were suits for men. There were objects for every chore, machines for every task and they were all for sale—propaganda, except not fora political regime but for a product. She had never seen anything like them before…(pg 78)

Mikael, one of her minders, scolds her for her fascination,

Do not underestimate the power of their programs. They serve to numb t he mind of their citizens. It is not mere entertainment. It is a key weapon in maintaing their authority. The citizens of this country are given idiotic escapism in order to prevent them asking deeper questions. (pg 80)

Of course, we continue to have the same view of “idiotic escapism”, so what does that make us?

Currently reading Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd (Harper)

2 Responses to “Better Dead Than Red or Better Red Than Dead”

  1. John January 21, 2012 at 12:55 am #

    True, we know it’s idiotic escapism but we still as a nation watch a lot of tv. And speaking of the tube, did you know there is another trailer for Agent 6: ?

    • robertbirnbaum January 23, 2012 at 11:25 am #

      Yeah, years later, TV is still a “vast wasteland”

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