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Invented Lives is the eighth novel of Melbourne writer Andrea Goldsmith.
In it, she charts the life of Galina, newly arrived from Soviet-era Russia to 1980s Melbourne, where she reconnects with Andrew, a mosaicist she met briefly on a Leningrad street.
She becomes close to his parents also, and learns something of their turmoil and secrets. It’s a story of exile from country and home, from one’s true self and also a story of love.
We caught up with Andrea ahead of her in conversation event at Muse on Sunday 28 April.
Invented Lives, set in the 1980s, deals with migration and some of the many emotions and dilemmas it brings up. How do you think the migrant experience has changed in Australia from the times of the book and now?
All migrations are hard whether they are chosen freely, or, as is the case with the young Soviet woman, Galina, in Invented Lives, engineered by repression.
Migration has always been hard. The language is strange, the customs are strange, the people are strange. And the identity you have brought with you, the person you are, can seem such a poor fit in the new country, even a liability. Galina is strong and resilient, Soviet life has made her so, but Australian life makes many demands of her.
What is your interest in 1980s Russia?
Russia is endlessly, and often gruesomely, fascinating. There’s something exaggerated about the country: Russian crimes are big, Russian famines and suffering are huge; and Russian buildings, poetry and music are unsurpassed for beauty and richness.
The 1980s – the Gorbachev years – were a bridge between the Soviet regime and the Putin present. Change was the hallmark of those times. The people’s hopes for the future were tinged with the distrust borne of centuries of disappointment. It was a rare time.
The main character Galina has a life-changing encounter in the book – what makes these ‘sliding door’ moments great to write about?
Ah, the joys of being a novelist. So many possibilities. Those ‘sliding door’ moments provide the fuel for a story, and the drama too. At the very beginning of the novel, Galina, steeped in grief over the death of her mother, bumps into an Australian studying in Leningrad. The whole novel proceeds from this chance encounter.
Protagonists Galina and Andrew see each other in ways they are perhaps not the way they would describe themselves. What interests you about human perceptions such as these?
Invented Lives is written from the point of view of the various characters. This provides an insight into what each character is really thinking and feeling – their private thoughts – while their outer actions might provide a quite different impression.
We humans are complex beings, and novels allow you to get under the skin of characters in a way that rarely happens in real life. Sometimes reading a novel can feel like reading a diary – or peeping through a keyhole.
Letters and letter-writing play a role in Invented Lives. What is your interest in letters?
There’s an intimacy to letters and a depth of thought not found in any other form of communication – certainly not texts or twitter. And letters are private.
Sylvie Morrow, one of the main characters in Invented Lives, appears to live a regular middle-class life. Privately, she collects letters, letters written by strangers, thereby expanding the confines of a life that has grown far too small for her. Letters spark her imagination, letters take her far from home. And letters have taken me far away too.
And – without book spoilers – what interests you in writing about relationships? The mess, the secrets, the hidden nature of them?
All of that, plus the fact that no relationship occurs in a vacuum. X may well love Y, but if Y has other things on her mind, X will be thwarted. And long-term relationships, like the marriage of Sylvie and Leonard Morrow in Invented Lives, they are never simple.
As Sylvie so aptly demonstrates, your partner can act in an unforgiveable way, but that’s rarely sufficient reason to throw over a thirty-year marriage. In all my novels I’ve been more interested in how and why people stay together, rather than the fireworks of breaking up.
Melbourne – of the 50s and 80s – is almost a character in the book – did you enjoy describing these periods?
I am an unabashed Melbourne lover: this city has a hold on my heart. I delighted in exploring old Melbourne for Invented Lives – so much has remained.
But there was another reason for setting the novel in the 1980s: the recent past shines a light on where we are now, both what has been gained and what has been lost. The past illuminates the present in an unbiased way.
What’s on your TBR list at the moment, or what’s something you’ve been raving about recently?
Having read Kamila Shamsie’s brilliant Home Fires, I am now working my way through her earlier books. She ranges so easily across continents and between the past and present. And I have been raving about Paul Kildea’s Chopin’s Piano. This book of creative non-fiction has the urgency and richness of an unputdownable novel. And Kildea writes like a dream.
What: Andrea Goldsmith in conversation
When: Sunday 28b April from 3 – 4 pm
Where: Muse Canberra, inside East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston
Cost: $$15 (includes a complimentary glass of house wine or juice)
Bookings and more information: musecanberra.com.au/events/2019/4/28/andrea-goldsmith-invented-lives