After her mother’s death, a young Russian woman continues with the plans they had shared, immigrating to Australia and experiencing, alone, the complexities of starting over.
Female characters discover inner strength through altered circumstances in Goldsmith’s (The Memory Trap, 2013, etc.) elegant, character-driven new novel, which traces several generations of a Russian Jewish family, the Kogans, who have survived not only Soviet anti-Semitism, but also terrible events like Stalin’s purges and the siege of Leningrad. Galina Kogan, 24, is the youngest member of the line and the one who leaves Russia in 1986 to live out her mother’s dreams of a new beginning. A random encounter in Leningrad with Andrew Morrow, an Australian visitor who knocks her down in the badly paved street, points Galina toward that continent, and she settles in Melbourne, eventually reconnecting with Andrew, who has never forgotten her. But this novel is neither a conventional saga nor a straightforward love story. Instead, Goldsmith shifts her focus to Andrew’s parents, Sylvie and Leonard, whose 30-plus-year-long marriage may look solid and affectionate but is in fact a hollow shell. Both Galina and Sylvie have shifts of orientation to make, and it is the author’s detailed scrutiny of these two characters during that process that fills most of the pages, leaving less room for dramatic events or even similarly full-blooded portraits of the men. Sensitive Andrew and secretive Leonard remain less persuasive figures, as does Galina’s unpleasant old uncle, Mikhail, who suddenly arrives to invade her contentment as an independent woman with a new life writing and illustrating children’s books. Sylvie, meanwhile, spends some time discovering the suppressed parts of herself yet remains the constant wife. This choice and the women’s shared inclination to leave things unsaid intensifies the novel’s period feel.
Calm, contained, careful: Goldsmith’s latest offers insight but rather too much restraint.