In 1954, Melbourne is still reeling from WWII, the Cold War sees suspicions running high and the threat of communism and spies are imagined in every shadow. 15 year old Jewish Ruth is trying to navigate her own path, despite her strict upbringing and the past that haunts her family. A path that she wishes could include her first love, 17 year old Patrick. But the rich, Catholic boy is strictly off limits.
When a mysterious woman moves in next door in the dead of night, Ruth becomes convinced that she is none other than Eva or Evdokia Petrov, a Soviet spy and wife of famous Russian defector, Vladimir Petrov.
Goldie Alexander has created a riveting story with many layers to it. It is told through two points of view by the main characters. This approach gives a close and intimate look into their thoughts which adds mystery and tension, and keeps the pages turning.
The reader is immediately pulled into the era and setting. Its strong sense of place and time, descriptive historical happenings, social and political climate, class distinctions, and post-war prejudices, are plaited into a Romeo and Juliet romance that threads its way through the pages.
Perhaps Goldie Alexander’s best work yet, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, between the ages of 14-104, due to the many themes and issues covered. It should be noted that there are scenes with sexual content.
Anastasia Gonis reviewing for Buzzwords
Reviewed by Virginia Lowe, reviewer, teacher and author of the ezine: Create a Kid’s Books
It is the nineteen fifties, and Ruth is curious about the new tenant, Eva, who moves into the flat next door to theirs, above Papa’s milk bar. She is convinced that ASIO is hiding Evdokia Petrov there. Her being taken from the plane at the last minute, and being hidden in Australia, is being discussed on the radio, and by her parents. They are worried by the thought that this might set Prime Minister Menzies to bringing in laws about ex-communists, like those in America – ‘Reds under the beds’. Papa had belonged to the Communist Party, many years ago.
One day, walking back from the school tram, Ruth bumps into Patrick from the catholic college nearby, the collision caused by her reading and him being on a bike. Ruth’s little brother is only four, and she often has to look after him because her parents work long hours in the milk bar. So she uses after school sport as a cover for meeting Patrick again, and again in the park. He even teaches her to ride a bike! So exciting. She confides only in her friend Nancy – not in her parents, who would disapprove. He’s not a ‘nice Jewish boy’. So she confides in Eva too, and uses running her messages as a cover for meeting Patrick as well.
But eventually, when Patrick asks her home, she discovers that his parents are equally unimpressed with him introducing a girl who is not a ‘nice Irish Catholic lass’. Not only that, she can’t hold her wine in a mature manner (and they don’t know – and wouldn’t care – that she’s never tasted it before).
And Evdokia next door? That can remain a mystery until you read it – up until the last few pages, even though ‘Eva’ has chapters in the first person.
This is an exciting romance about a doomed love, set in a period of which little is written. Though there is Ursula Dubosarsky’s The Red Shoe, about the Petrov affair, as well (I reviewed it some years back – and she gave me a tiny red shoe, too!).
Reviewed by Dianne Bates. 2014
A fictional story, That Stranger Next Door, is nonetheless rooted in actual events that happened in Australia in the 1950s. Ruth Cohen is a fifteen-year old girl growing up in a Melbourne Jewish home she shares with her parents, grandfather Zeida and younger brother Leon. Like girls her age, Ruth has dreams for her future, but unlike her peers (and despite her mother’s ambitions for her), she doesn’t want to become a wife and mother when she grows up; she aspires to a career as a doctor. A scholarship student, she’s certainly clever enough. However, when she meets Patrick O’Sullivan from a wealthy Catholic family, her ambitions fly out of the window.
Invited to Patrick’s home where she meets his overbearing and unlikeable father, she hears political talk at the dinner table which is at odds with the politics of her parents who own a milk bar. Politics and events in Australia thread through this story; the world is in the grips of the Cold War, McCarthyism is rife in America and Australia is reeling from the shock of the Petrov spy affair. Ruth’s father, a former communist, is concerned that ASIO is investigating him, while Patrick’s father works for the right-wing politician, Bob Santamaria.
The story begins with Ruth wakening one night to a mystery; someone has stealthily moved into the flat opposite her home. When she discovers that the new tenant is Eva who never pulls back the curtains or comes outdoors, her active, intelligent mind creates a scenario; she comes to believe that Eva is Evdokia Petrov, the defector. A relationship develops between the two with Eva helping Ruth conceal her secret meetings with Patrick and acting as a romantic sounding board. Meanwhile, Ruth suspects that strangers in black cars near her home are spying on Eva – or are they spying on her father, believing he is a communist spy?
In That Stranger Next Door, Alexander has captured a genuine feel of the period in the way people spoke then, the way they dressed and behaved. Her characters feel real, too, from her depiction of the conflicted Ruth to Patrick’s intelligent, unfulfilled and depressed mother. Patrick’s moodiness and his treatment of Ruth after she loses her virginity to him are very well handled. The politics of the time and the cultural depiction of two diverse families – the Jewish Cohens and the Catholic O’Sullivans – ring true and is a great way of introducing teenager readers to a critical period in Australia’s history.
The story is told from two points of view with Ruth narrating most chapters but Eva telling her story, too – of being born in the Ukraine, forced to become part of the army of slave labour in a German munitions’ factory and eventually coming to Australia. Why Eva is in hiding is not revealed until late in the book. Is she Mrs Petrov? Or is there another reason for the mystery that surrounds her? The last chapter happens fourteen years later when the reader learns of what has become of Ruth and answers whether or not her ambitions were realised.
That Stranger Next Door is an engrossing read; the historical context is woven throughout the fiction to provide a rich background to the lives of two vastly different families with their respective beliefs and problems. Recommended for readers 14+ years.
That Stranger Next Door
Goldie Alexander’s novel is set in a rather overlooked period in Australian history: the post-war era of the 1950s and the outset of the Cold War. Early in the story, we learn that the stranger of the title could be Eva Petrov, the victim of what came to be known as the Petrov Affair. Teenage readers who are unfamiliar with this twentieth century event will discover political values and religious issues that are very different from today’s ideals and philosophies. Teenagers themselves, however, have not changed. Heroine, Ruth is perplexed and challenged by the same sort of issues as her contemporary readers, the opposite sex being the obvious one. Ruth is a Jewish girl but her love interest, Patrick, is a from a prominent Melbourne Catholic family. It’s like Romeo and Juliet all over again – without the bloodshed and the poison, but with plenty of drama.
English Teacher and Reviewer
Publisher: Clan Destine Press
ISBN 9780992492434 (eBook) 978-0-9924924-4-1