The Matryoshka Murders | Book by Kay Williams and Eileen Wyman

Reading Group Guide - Topics to Consider

  1. Minutes after guerrilla filmmaker Kate Hennessy and her new Russian friend Sveta enter a cab on the outskirts of Leningrad, they realize that their lives are at stake. What happens? Who has arranged for the cab? Although she almost dies, Kate's training and ingenuity disrupt this attack. Explain. Consider further attacks on her life. In Leningrad: Her attack as she walks back to her hotel from Pushkin Square. In NYC: in Gilly's apartment, her assault on the street, her abduction in the underground garage.
  2. After the kidnapping and Kolya, the cab driver's attack, Kate searches her mind for what provoked such violence. Is it a simple robbery gone wrong? How does the environment prove as dangerous as her attacker?
  3. In Chapter 2, the reader learns more about Kate's abduction as Andre, Kolya, and Captain Iurkov enter the story. The reader realizes that political forces seem to be operating against Kate. Describe the hierarchy of power that is triggering this violence. Describe Captain Iurkov, Andre, Kolya. What are their motivations for attempting to kill Kate?
  4. The need to secure what Kate considers to be an incriminating videotape puts her in more danger, and Andre's role increases as he attempts unsuccessfully to steal the videotape on several occasions. Explain how he is able to enter her room. Is the 4th floor dejurnaya a tool of the KGB or an indication of the general lawlessness and widespread corruption?
  5. When trapped in Kate's room, what suggests that Andre is becoming sympathetic to her, possibly feeling an attraction toward her despite his assignment to kill her? He does eventually succeed in stealing the tapes. Under what circumstances? How are the tapes dangerous to Masha and Nadya if they reach the authorities?
  6. In the opening scene of chapter one, Kate seems somewhat tentative and even vulnerable as the women's meeting is drawing to a close. What thoughts suggest this? What hints do you receive about the lives that Masha, Nadya, and Sveta are forced to lead in this first chapter? Their lack of power in their own homes and in society? As the story progresses, describe the mistreatment experienced by Masha, who is divorced from her husband, by Tanya, who is married to a bully, and by the women at the Soul Cafe who are leading "underground" lives, whose lives are considered a crime against society.
  7. How do the experiences of the "moonlight" persons compare with women living alternative lifestyles in the United States? Consider what Nadya says . . . what those at the Soul Cafe report. What are some of their experiences as Part I evolves? In Part II, how does Kate recognize that even in the United States, although not government sanctioned, that the "cure" is considered by some a "fix" for those who have chosen an alternative lifestyle?
  8. What hardships are experienced by the common people in Leningrad in 1991? Contrast the luxury of the film festival and the hotel with the home of Masha and her mother: The food, the décor, etc. Consider the degree of poverty, the tight money, untrustworthy police, the KGB, the corruption and how it influences the behavior of characters in the book: Tanya, Nadya, Masha, Kolya, Andre, Gregor. Paranoia and fear are inbred as Masha notes: "The KGB has made us a country of snoops and informants."
  9. Kate suspects that the film festival's daily bulletins, and the Laboratory of Experimental Modeling performances might be subject to political punishment. Why might authorities object? Tour guide Alexei seems unafraid to express economic and political truths as well as sharing highlights of Russian culture and history. What insights does the reader gain from Alexei?
  10. Describe the chaotic conditions that exist for those showing films at the festival. Describe instances where Titan Films as well as others experience loss, possible piracy. The chaos seems to parallel that taking place in the streets. Describe the corruption that seems rampant, the need for bribery, the dishonest use of power with impunity. Consider the behaviors of Captain Iurkov, Kolya, Gregor in this light.
  11. Olga reveals the old fables and traditions of the culture during the sleigh ride at the end of Part I. What do these passages add to the story? Are they important? Necessary? Why? Russian food is another cultural aspect detailed in both Part I and Part II. Think of the delicacies served at the Marianna Cafe.
  12. Sveta's disappearance becomes an obsession with Kate. Does the phone response, "She's been taken care of," give relief to Kate? To you, the reader? What do Kate and others theorize about her fate if she survived the pursuit in the cemetery and the weather? What happens to Nadya after reporting her missing friend? In Part II, Kate's learns about Sveta's death and who is responsible. Does this ease her guilt?
  13. Why are the stolen earrings an important clue? Trace their history from Leningrad to NYC.
  14. Kate's impulsive decision to travel alone to Pushkin Square to secure the Matryoshka political dolls propels Part 1 to a climax, leading to disaster for Kolya and Tanya. How? What are the repercussions for Andre? For Kate?
  15. Once Gregor enters the story, the political implications escalate, and the motive for Kate's abduction and attempted murder become focused. The videotape of Gregor that Kate has filmed by chance is incriminating, but why? Who is Gregor's boss? Who is Gregor? Is Kate's danger related to the political situation in Russia? Why? Why not?
  16. How does Andre's stealing Kate's business card become an important plot detail in Part II? As well as self-preservation from Iurkov's wrath, Andre had another reason for escaping to NYC. What was his mission? How was he able to afford the cost of his escape? What help does he have in his escape from Leningrad--and once he arrives in Little Odessa by the Sea? Why does he feel the need to assume a disguise? Had contacting Kate been part of his plan?
  17. Captain Iurkov seeks revenge on Kate, who lives despite efforts to kill her--and on Andre--who has failed in his assignment to kill Kate. The fire offers Iurkov a chance to trap her, to make her "disappear," he thinks. What is his plan? How does Kate outsmart him?
  18. Brave friends are lifelines for Kate. How does Olga help Kate when she first appears at the Olgino Hotel and then again as everything spins out of control at the climax of Part I? Masha becomes instrumental in her escape to Finland. How? What is the significance of Kate's Russian name: Ekaterina Danilovna? In Part II, unexpected persons become lifelines for Kate. Explain. Who is Grusha?
  19. Steve, Dom's partner, seems a liability to Titan Films. How does he take advantage of Tanya? What illegal dealings does he arrange with Captain Iurkov? In Part II, what indicates that his dealings with Captain Iurkov are progressing? Is he in danger from Iurkov? Why is Dom reluctant to fire him?
  20. Gregor's motive for wanting Kate killed is a mystery in Part I, but revealed in Part II. What is his motive? Back in NYC, why is Gregor still intent on retrieving the tape, willing to accept Andre's extortion, at least superficially? What is his plan for Andre? He tricks Andre with the payoff. How? Andre tricks Gregor with the tape. How?
  21. Gregor's political influence becomes evident as Captain Iurkov and Gregor have a face-off. Gregor's role in the power hierarchy is described by the insecure Captain Iurkov who had been a hero in Afghanistan. He knows that Gregor, because of his company's commitment to invest hard currency into the shaky Russian economy (with the potential to line the pockets of powerful leaders), will be favored. Back in NYC, does Gregor continue to have such power? How has he failed?
  22. Back in NYC, after Kate is attacked in Gilly's apartment and on the street, she decides to alert the authorities in case her attacker succeeds in killing her. Detective Benitez seems skeptical at first, but begins to think Kate's story has credibility. Why? Why was she hesitant to contact the authorities?
  23. Personal relationships are described and suggested during Part I and Part II. What do you know about Kate and her significant other, Gilly? Kate's history seems somewhat rocky because of her family situation. Consider her parents, her Aunt Maureen and her current uncle, Burt, who, in Kate's opinion, has failed as a replacement for Aunt Maureen's first husband, Dave. It becomes apparent in Part II that Uncle Burt has failed Kate, not just emotionally. Explain.
  24. Greed is an important theme in the novel. The greed of Andre, Kolya, Captain Iurkov, Gregor, Steve, and even Tanya drives the plot. Explain the "hunger for wealth or status" each experiences. Is greed the primary "driver" for Andre? For Tanya? Is fear a factor for either? Greed also seems to be a driving force for Uncle Burt and Gilly's father, Mr. McGillicuddy. Explain.
  25. The terms, cold blooded and heartless, might be descriptive of some of these characters. Kolya, Captain Iurkov, Gregor. Even Mr. McGillicuddy. Explain.
  26. How is the title The Matryoshka Murders reflected in the novel? "Inside Gorbachev was Andropov, next was Brezhnev, followed by Kruschev, then Stalin, a small Lenin, the Czar Nicholas, and finally Peter the Great. The Gorby dolls seemed to say perfectly what the Russian people felt about their lives under Glasnost, Gorbachev: The more things change the more they stay the same." Is this true for the lives of the characters in Part I? Consider Masha, Olga, Andre, the "moonlight" people? Does the danger Kate experiences have any relationship to the political reality in Russia? Why? Why not?
  27. Although a minor subplot in Part I, an attraction seems to be forming between Masha, the interpreter for the Film Festival, and Dom, Kate's boss and the President and CEO of Titan Films. His plan to have her visit him in America may or may not materialize. How difficult is travel for Russian citizens?
  28. What future do you see for Kate? Gilly? Andre? Captain Iurkov? Steve? Mr. McGillicuddy? Although Aunt Maureen and Uncle Burt are minor characters, what future do you foresee for them?
  29. Is Kate's hope realistic . . . that she return to Leningrad in the summer to film and document the flagrant human rights violations, especially toward those who are called "moonlight" persons? This becomes more realistic at the end of Part II. Why?
  30. The suspense in the novel frequently is heightened by the reader knowing more than the character (dramatic irony). In Leningrad and in NYC, the reader frequently knows the danger lurking for Kate when she doesn't. In Part II consider the following: In Gilly's apartment? On the street? In Kate's underground parking garage?