A Bolshevik in Box Hill

Maree Roberts book cover

The Impossible History of Trotsky’s Sister
By Maree F Roberts
RR Imprint, 2021. 286pp.

Maree Roberts’ novel about Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky’s sister Olga escaping Joseph Stalin’s executions and settling in Box Hill in Melbourne is believable and entertaining.

In reality, Olga Kameneva was shot along with other prominent political prisoners in September 1941.

In Roberts’ novel, Olga remains a staunch communist, with no regrets about her time as a leading Bolshevik, but many memories both sad and impressive. She still mourns the death of her two sons, who were both executed by Stalin, as was her ex-husband, Lev Kamenev.

At times she is nonplussed by the behaviour and attitudes of the Australian middle class but then swiftly reminds herself that she has witnessed it all before. This leads her to rescue a young communist woman, pregnant and disowned by her family and banished to a Catholic institution for unwed mothers.

She is constantly guided in her successful liberation action by flashbacks and reminiscences of her previous life leading up to and after the Bolshevik revolution. She has characters such as Anton Chekhov, Konstantin Stanislavski, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Alexandra Kollantai and her brother, Leon, to remind her and steer her in the right direction.

The leading artistic figures, including actors, writers, musicians, directors and innovative creative movements of the post-Bolshevik revolutionary period instruct her writing and direction of a play that she convinces the Australian Communist Party and their theatre group to perform. This part of the plot introduces the reader to the turbulent and exhilarating period of the Russian Revolution when experimentation flourished.

As a comrade of Roberts, I could be accused of bias, but I consider The Impossible History Of Trotsky’s Sister a thoroughly enjoyable and educative novel.