On his wedding day in 1976, Viktor Moroz stumbles upon a murder scene: two gay men, one of them a U.S. official, have been axed to death in Moscow. Viktor, a Jewish refusenik, is stuck in the Soviet Union because the government has denied his application to leave for Israel; he sits "in refusal" alongside his wife and their group of intellectuals, Jewish and not. But the KGB spots Viktor leaving the murder scene. Plucked off the street, he's given a choice: find the murderer or become the suspect of convenience. His deadline is nine days later, when Henry Kissinger will be arriving in Moscow. Unsolved ax murders, it seems, aren't good for politics.
Imaginative ... Written with fervor, black humor and an infectious zest for Russian culture ... Goldberg offers a looping narrative and various backstories in The Dissident, but the novel’s meanderings are part of its charm. Moscow comes palpably to life in evocative, often witty descriptions of its streetscapes and food ... Thriller-like ... Goldberg reminds us that literature is intimately intertwined with human struggles in the real world. His overstuffed, occasionally self-indulgent but always stimulating novel is a feast for serious fiction readers.
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 ... The detail throughout is savory, but it is spread not on a hunk of hearty bread but on a murder-and-espionage plot that doesn’t make much sense ... The twist also has the effect of frustrating, and morally wrong-footing, any reader with the fairly natural desire to know who swung the ax ... With so many strong flavors, in such generous portions, it’s probably wiser to enjoy this book not as a meal but as a series of small plates.
[A] genre-defying thriller ... In a plot that’s as quirky, disjointed, and complex as it is mesmerizing, eclectic, and intriguing, Goldberg, who harbors mixed feelings about Russia, offers vivid characters, informative insights into history, language, culture, and politics, and a sad but convincing ending. Not an easy read, but a unique one.