John Berger describes emigration as ‘the quintessential experience of our time’ (And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, 1984), and gives credence to the concept that geographic and psychological exile is pervasive to the human condition. ‘No one willingly chooses exile – exile is the option when choice has run out,’ says the protagonist of Invented Lives, Russian-Jewish émigré Galina Kogan.
Andrea Goldsmith’s eighth novel opens in Leningrad. It is the mid-1980s and Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost have been eagerly embraced by the West. Soviet citizens are more sceptical. Shortages and privations remain daily facts of life, and long experience has taught them the value of promises made by those in power. Quickly, before the rules change yet again, Galina and her mother, Lidiya, apply to emigrate. But Lidiya dies, and Galina is left alone to make the decisions they would have made together.