Chris Minns launches debut novel The Girl from Moscow

March 8, 2024 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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NSW Premier Chris Minns officially launched Julia Levitina’s debut novel, The Girl from Moscow at Gertrude and Alice bookshop at Bondi Beach.

NSW Premier Chris Minns, author Julia Levitina and Pantera Press editor Katherine Hassett

The Girl From Moscow is set in the early 1980s Soviet Union with its main character, Ella Ashkenazi, a young actress who yearns for freedom – but gets entangled in the KGB web.

The novel is now available in bookshops across Australia and New Zealand as well as and Booktopia. It was published by an independent commercial Australian publishing house – Pantera Press and is also available as an audiobook.

This book is a major achievement as English is Julia’s second language. The Girl From Moscow has already received endorsements from prominent authors: Heather Morris, the author of Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey – and Kelly Rimmer, who wrote The Warsaw Orphan and The German Wife.

Heather Morris said: “A stunning debut novel. Julia has beautifully crafted characters and given us a tale of intrigue set against the backdrop of 1980s Russia. She has created a thrilling atmosphere of the insidious threat communist Russia posed, not to its enemies, but to its own citizens. I lost sleep devouring this page-turner.”

Julia Levitina recalls that when she was writing the novel more than ten years ago, she thought she needed to tell the world about the evil empire of the USSR. Sadly, the oppressive regime has returned. She told J-Wire: “It is a work of fiction, yet the details are inspired by my lived experience in Soviet Russia.

When I flew out of Moscow in June 1991 on my way to Australia, I thought the evil empire was gone forever; unfortunately, with the unjust war raging against my mother’s birthplace – Ukraine, we see otherwise. I believe my novel is timely due to the current world events.

My main character, Ella, is a brave young woman who takes on the KGB – that dark monstrosity of the Soviet apparatus – and the terror-based system that still holds the country hostage. She’s resourceful, able to overcome obstacles, stands for her truth and refuses to look for a compromise to survive. She is one woman standing against tyranny.

My early life provides inspiration for my protagonist – Ella Ashkenazi– a young actress yearning for freedom. In the novel, there are many incidents connected to my family history, and Moscow is as I remember it. It was a world that suppressed everything fresh, bright and new. As a Jew, there was the added pain of being treated like a second-rate citizen in the country of my birth and having Jewess stamped on my Soviet passport.”

Born in Moscow, Julia lived there before immigrating to Australia in June 1991 as an adult with her family, two children, and $200 in her pocket.  Growing up behind the Iron Curtain, she wanted to be the matriarch who moved countries and created a new life for her children.

Since leaving the Soviet Union, Julia has created a new life for herself in Sydney. She attends Emanuel Synagogue with her husband, Walt Secord, a former Labor MP and frontbencher and long-serving former deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.

Julia completed a Master of Design (Theatre) at the University of Technology Sydney. While teaching set and costume design, she wrote short stories. In 2022, the Australian Society of Authors shortlisted Julia’s unpublished manuscript for the ASA/HQ Commercial Fiction prize.

Julia is now researching and writing her next novel, set in the Soviet Union and the Australian outback in 1928, a decade after the Bolshevik Revolution.

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