I bought Andrea Goldsmith’s Invented Lives to read on the plane on the way home from Melbourne. Book-buying on impulse can sometimes be a dismal failure, but this spontaneous purchase provided deep rewards.
Invented Lives is the story of a young Jewish woman who migrates from Leningrad in the 1980s and her attempts to settle into a strange new country. Galina Kogan chooses Australia almost on whim. She had planned to go to Canada after the death of her mother but changes her mind after a chance encounter with Australian mosaicist, Andrew Morrow.
By the time she contacts Andrew, two years after their first contact, she has already established herself in Melbourne. She has a position as a graphic artist and has settled into a place of her own. But still she experiences loneliness. She contemplates her future.
Andrew Morrow’s card was in one hand and the telephone receiver in the other. Theirs had been an accidental meeting two years ago. He might not remember her, and even if he did…what need would he have for a lonely Russian treading the slippery slopes of immigration.
For all his success in his chosen field, intense shyness and introversion plague Andrew and make social interaction painful. When he arrives at her home, he is a stranger. Even his physical appearance is different from how Galina remembered him. The couple’s first date is far from satisfactory, but eventually he invites her to meet his parents.
The secret life of Leonard Morrow, Andrew’s father, is about to blow up. Sylvie Morrow’s role as a subservient stay-at-home housewife will soon change, perhaps in response to Galina’s influence.
Sense of place in Invented Lives
Lives may well be invented and shaken up in the course of Invented Lives. Andrea Goldsmith’s Melbourne, however, presents a deeply authentic sense of place. I have a strong sense that in this story the city itself can be experienced as a ‘character’ without which the novel would make less sense and be less satisfying.
Having walked around the areas of Melbourne occupied by these characters during the two weeks before I read the book, I felt a frequent flush of recognition and joy.
Where better than the Victoria Markets to take on a first date a woman from Russia, whom one hardly knows? How better to showcase the abundance of capitalism which contrasts with the austerity of Leningrad under Mikhail Gorbachev? This is one of the many extended metaphors used by Andrea Goldsmith in this book.
The Block Arcade was opposite the apartment block in Collin Street where we stayed. It was there that Andrew drew inspiration for his successful career. There we drank coffee at a French-named café. There, also I bought a beautiful scarf which will remind me of The Block and of Invented Lives whenever I wear it.
The novel deals with large themes including the impact of immigration on both those who migrate and those who accept them. The roles of women in Australian society are challenged. Family patterns and ties, and the way in which they bind members, test people.
Invented Lives demonstrated the power of different kinds love which can transcend almost unimaginable difficulties.
This review forms part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019. Other books I’ve reviewed this year include This Place You Know by Christina Houen, and The Arsonist, by Chloe Hooper.