On his wedding day in 1976, Viktor Moroz stumbles upon a murder scene: two gay men, one of them a US official, are axed to death in Moscow. Viktor, a Jewish refusenik, is stuck in Russia due to the government’s denial of his application to leave for Israel; he sits “in refusal” alongside his wife and their community of intellectuals, Jewish and not. But then the KGB spots Viktor leaving the murder scene. Plucked off the street, he’s given a choice: find the real murderer or become the suspect of convenience. His deadline is nine days later, when Henry Kissinger is arriving in Moscow. Ax murders, it seems, aren’t good for politics.
A whip-smart, often hilarious Cold War thriller, Paul Goldberg’s The Dissident explores what it means to survive in the face of impossible choices and monumental consequences. To solve the case, Viktor ropes in his community, which includes his banned-text-distributing wife, a hard-drinking sculptor, a Russian priest of Jewish heritage, and a visiting American intent on reliving World War II heroics. As Viktor struggles to figure out whom to trust, he’s forced to question not only the KGB’s murky motives but also those of his fellow refuseniks—and the man he admires above all: the Secretary of State himself.
Immersive, unpredictable, and always ax-sharp, The Dissident is Cold War intrigue at its most inventive: an uncompromising look at sacrifice, community, and the scars of history and identity, from an expert storyteller.
Praise for The Dissident
“Crime and Punishment―for the Jews! Paul Goldberg's newest is a dead-serious, dead-funny, no-he-didn't marvel." ―Joshua Cohen, author of The Netanyahus
"Another strong performance by Goldberg, a master at dissecting divided souls. A smart, satirically streaked novel." ―Kirkus Reviews
"Goldberg’s genre-defying thriller mixes political reflections, historical perspectives, philosophical
musings, and the author’s personal take on the culture and society of Russia, where he lived until he was 14 . . . mesmerizing, eclectic, and intriguing." ―Booklist
"Enjoyably absurd . . . Goldberg is an impressively encyclopedic guide. Readers looking for an ambitious, off the beaten path comedic mystery will find plenty to enjoy." ―Publishers Weekly
"The Dissident is a murder mystery, a love story, a diplomatic thriller, and a glimpse into a pivotal moment in Soviet history. But most of all it is a joy. An incandescent conjuring of Moscow in the 1970s full of dark humor, vodka, smoked fish, and choices no one should be forced to make, The Dissident is a hilarious and erudite novel brimming over with life." ―Michael David Lukas, author of The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
“Paul Goldberg crafts an unexpected and fully original Cold War mystery with a force of knowledge about his subject. In one way, it’s a highfalutin and wild ride, but the simplicity and harmony of a good novel is never lost. The Dissident is a brilliant dose of the humanist compassion we all need right now." ―Derek B. Miller, author of How to Find Your Way in the Dark
"Paul Goldberg’s love letter to samizdat is a hilarious, anarchic tour through Soviet era Moscow and the absurd negotiations required to survive. Tense and witty, scathing yet affectionate, this wonderfully overstuffed rollercoaster is a perceptive and wise snapshot of refusenik life during the Cold War. Somewhere, Bulgakov is smiling." ―Mark Sarvas, author of Memento Park
“Everything in this remarkably engaging, fast-paced, ingeniously plotted, and, in all, beautifully wrought book―by turns funny and heartbreaking―rings true, because everything in it is true. It is, above all else, an impeccably authentic fictionalized testimony. The parallels with present-day Russia drawn in this novel are inevitable and uncanny. The Dissident is essential reading for our times.” ―Mikhail Iossel, author of Love Like Water, Love Like Fire
“The Dissident is not a history of Soviet dissent. The Dissident is literature, a novel that follows the conventions of a detective story. Its masterfully crafted detective plot and wordplay―with translations from Russian to English and English to Russian (with a dollop of Yiddish)―will undoubtedly please any reader.” ―Aleksandar Daniel, member of the board of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization International Memorial
The Washington Post, Wendy Smith: Veteran journalist Paul Goldberg wrote two nonfiction books about the human rights struggle in the U.S.S.R. before he turned his efforts to fiction. His debut novel, “The Yid” (2016), drew on the knowledge he gained in those earlier books to make the Soviet Union’s police-state atmosphere the backdrop for a historical thriller grounded in fevered debates on politics, religion and the meaning of life. He takes the same imaginative approach in his latest novel, “The Dissident.”
The New York Times, Caleb Crain: "The sociological description of 1970s Soviet activist life that Paul Goldberg layers onto his new novel, The Dissident, is as thick, gleaming and rich as a slab of fatback on rye. A wedding table in the first chapter groans with two kinds of fatback, in fact, along with jellied meat, pickled cabbage, eggplant caviar, sprats, sardines and “slippery” marinated mushrooms."
Forward, Julia M. Klein: "The Dissident is at once a time capsule, a critical commentary on Russian literature, and an indictment of Soviet society and its successor regimes. The Holocaust, too, casts a lengthy shadow. It teaches an obvious lesson: that Jews above all (but surely not just Jews) must “value human life and respect others,” a simple prescription that mostly eludes Goldberg’s semi-fictional, grotesquely realistic Soviet Union."
The Jerusalem Post, Glenn C. Altschuller: "Darkly humorous, philosophical, and suspenseful, with a memorable cast of characters, The Dissident illuminates the human rights movement and the struggle of Soviet Jews to get permission to move to Israel, and presents a harshly critical account of Cold War diplomacy."
Jewish Book Council, Donald Weber: "Goldberg always writes about his former homeland with the wicked, satirical eye of an insider-outsider."
Peter Osnos, PLATFORM: "I have been reading Paul Goldberg’s new novelThe Dissident which The Washington Post called “imaginative” (paywall). Born in Russia, educated at Duke, and now living in Washington, D.C., Goldberg has also written two books about the dissident movement in the 1970s and 1980s, a topic of particular interest to me as well. (My book Would You Believe…the Helsinki Accords Changed the World? is about the role the dissidents played in the origins of the global human rights movement.) What I liked about the novel is Goldberg’s knowledgeable description of the cockeyed blend of menace and exaltation felt by Russians in the 1970s willing to challenge, one way or another, the mighty Soviet colossus.
Washington Independent Review of Books, Cathy Alter: "At turns heart-pounding and hilarious, Goldberg, whose previous novels include The Yid and The Chateau, is the type of writer who lets you know a character isn’t just wearing a sweater but a Dales of Norway sweater. Scarves, typewriters, and even slang in The Dissident are given serious scholarly treatment (there are copious footnotes, primarily in Cyrillic), while life’s big questions — what is memory? What is free will? How do I break into the Moscow Planetarium? — give the novel its emotional heft and bittersweetness."
Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, author and book blogger: "What inspired you to write 'The Dissident,' and how did you create your character Viktor?"
Murder and Smoked Fish in Moscow, Q&A with Marion Winik of Baltimore Fishbowl: Paul Goldberg’s latest novel, The Dissident, takes us to Moscow in 1976, on the wedding day of a couple named Viktor and Oksana. Sent on one last errand before the ceremony, Viktor stumbles upon the double murder of an American diplomat and his gay lover. To make matters worse, he’s then nabbed by the KGB and charged with solving the crime — before Henry Kissinger arrives in town nine days later.