How can hope exist when the past is so easily forgotten?
Pasha Ivanov is a child of the Freeze, born in Moscow during Brezhnev’s repressive rule over the Soviet Union. As a small child, Pasha sat at the kitchen table night after night as his parents and their friends gathered to preserve the memory of terrifying Stalinist violence, and to expose the continued harassment of dissidents.
When Gorbachev promises glasnost, openness, Pasha, an eager twenty-four year old, longs to create art and to carry on the work of those who came before him. He writes; falls in love. Yet that hope, too, fragments and by 1999 Pasha lives a solitary life in St Petersburg. Until a phone call in the middle of the night acts as a summons both to Moscow and to memory.
Through recollections and observation, Pasha walks through the landscapes of history, from concrete tower suburbs, to a summerhouse during Russia’s white night summers, to haunting former prison camps in the Arctic north. Pasha’s search to find meaning leads him to assemble a fractured story of Russia’s traumatic past.
About the Author
Katherine Brabon was born in Melbourne in 1987 and grew up in Woodend, Victoria. The Memory Artist is her first novel and won the 2016 The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award.
Review by Caroline Baum
No wonder this won the Vogel a couple of months ago. It is a mature, poised, atmospherically charged and poetic piece of writing that absolutely nails the mix of melancholy, uncertainty and tumult of Russia after the fall of Communism.
The novel is narrated by Pasha, a soulful and sensitive young man remembering his recently dead dissident mother, and moving through a landscape charged with memories of silence, secrets and stories left unfinished. It is an astonishingly authentic piece of writing in its understanding of the Russian psyche, eloquently capturing both the moods of the country's people and its landscape making it hard to believe that the author is not herself Russian born and bred.
As the cover image of Russian dolls suggests, this is a novel of many layers of revelation with a slow, reflective pace that draws the reader to a slower rhythm of contemplation. Outstanding.