A Pale View of Hills 

Dulwich Hill branch manager, radio personality, and book selling superstar, Morgan Smith tells us how it is.

September 2018

 - Monday, September 03, 2018
Politics, music, literature and romance—what’s not to love in the fabulous Dinner with the Dissidents by John Tesarsch, the ridiculously talented author of three novels (The Philanthropist and The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman), who is also an accomplished cellist, a barrister and lecturer in law. Set in Russia in the early 1970s and in contemporary Canberra, his new novel tells the story of Leonid, a penniless writer desperate to be published. The Lenin Press promises to publish his novel in return for Leonid befriending and reporting on the dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He meets the famous writer of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Cancer Ward at the dacha of the famous cellist Rostropovich where he falls in love with Klara, a promising student cellist. Leonid inveigles his way into their lives but his political awareness only comes when Solzhenitsyn asks him to read the book that will famously contribute to the breakdown of the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago.  
This is all recalled by Leonid who has become a public servant in Canberra where he is increasingly concerned about the work he is asked to do on the government’s anti-terrorism laws. The comparison Tesarsch draws between the two different eras in the capitals of Moscow and Canberra are frighteningly similar, but it is Leonid’s response—first as a young man and then as a much changed elderly widower. Leonid is a wonderfully complex character and Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich and Klara spoke to me as well.

There are a slew of recent novels being written with actual, usually famous, people and events being fictionalised, and Dinner with the Dissidents is one of the best I’ve read. While not the most brilliantly written novel, its mix of history, art and passion makes it unputdownable. Reminiscent of Document Z by Andrew Croome (2009) about the Petrovs in Canberra and more recently, Dennis Glover’s The Last Man in Europe about George Orwell’s political awakening, Dissidents is terrific.

As a personal aside, reading this book reminded me of the time when as a 14 year old I very proudly bought my first adult book as a birthday present for my mother—A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Obviously unaware of how much it meant to me, not only did she re-gift the book to my brother-in-law but asked me to inscribe it for him. Fifty years later I can remember where I was standing at the bookshelves in the living room and how I felt. I’ve never been able to look at that book without that memory flooding back.

Lastly, I‘d like to say a fond farewell to our children’s buyer, Mandy Clarke, who is moving on to greener pastures—well, Newtown actually.  Mandy is a complete professional, a wonderful children’s buyer and it’s been great fun working with her. Everyone at gleebooks and especially the Dulwich Hill gang, wish her all the best.

See you on D’Hill, Morgan