Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 27, 2009

Document Z (2009), by Andrew Croome (2008 Vogel joint winner)

Document ZI started blogging this in DJs restaurant, because I couldn’t resist showing off after Telstra installed one of those little USB internet connection things that means I can use my netbook anywhere.  It’s amazing!

But back to Document Z.  Andrew Croome won the 2008 Vogel with this novel, and it’s very good.  Espionage and political novels are not usually of much interest to me, but this one is a fictionalised story of the Petrov Affair and it’s put a human face on events that previously were just ‘history before my time’ .

The Petrovs, who defected from the then USSR in the 1950s may well still be alive, possibly still living here in Australia.  Joe Public will never know, though perhaps glasnost and the new Russian regime no longer have any interest in them anyway?

What this book made clear to me was just how momentous a decision defection was, and not just because it meant the Petrovs could never go home.  People don’t use old fashioned words like traitor any more, but choosing to betray your country’s secrets that have been entrusted to you is no small matter.  What muddies the water in this case was the human rights record of the Soviet government, and most people then and now would probably feel that the Petrovs were morally justified in doing it.  Croome suggests that espionage and the defection led to the identification of Soviet moles in the trade union movement and elsewhere because the Soviets were actively interfering in Australian politics.  It’s hard to imagine this now, and yet it did happen…

StasilandPerhaps if I hadn’t read Anna Funder’s Stasiland I might have thought the depiction of Soviet paranoia far-fetched, but it was sadly all too true that they spied on their own, recalled and ostracised agents who displeased them, and sometimes arranged for shootings of recalcitrants abroad.  The Petrovs must have been extraordinarily brave to take the risks they did, and it is sad to think that theirs was not a strong marriage since they had no alternative but to support one another.

Document Z is a riveting book, and I hope that Andrew Croome goes on to write more books like this that challenge us to think about the human face behind political events.  I wonder when the story of SIEV X will become a novel?

Author: Andrew Croome
Title: Document Z
Publisher: Allen & Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781741757439
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library


  1. Hi Lisa, You’ll find both the Petrov’s are in fact deceased. I’m afraid Joe Public has known for a long time.


    • Thanks, Matthew: I don’t know how I came to miss hearing about this. I hope they found contentment eventually…


  2. I don’t think they did I’m afraid. It appears they led a fairly isolated and barren life for the remainder of their lives. Though I do know Edvodokia’s sister came to live in Australia with her after their mother passed away (of natural causes). She definitely made the bigger sacrifice in defecting.


    • Yes, I agree, Matthew, her sacrifice did seem greater…it must have broken her heart to do it.
      I’ve just finished reading Dancer, by Colum McCann, which traverses some of the same ground in telling the story of Rudi Nureyev’s life, including his defection, but it explores the impact on the people left behind in Russia. It’s a work of fiction, of course, but it’s a very convincing portrayal of how, as he was swanning around the world, feted as a celebrity and earning heaps, his family and friends were subjected to extra surveillance and harassment. Leaving one’s country is not something to be taken lightly at the best of times, but in circumstances such as the Petrovs faced, it must have been harrowing.


  3. […] Russia given the opportunity, but Dancer shows the other side: the impact on those left behind.  Document Z showed this too:  Mrs Petrov hesitated to defect because she knew her family would be ostracised […]


  4. […] which captivate the reader.  It’s broadened my horizons –  and like Andrew Croome’s Document Z which fictionalised the Petrov Affair, it ’s a classy effort at bringing recent history into […]


  5. […] the award for new writing for fiction went to Andrew Croome for Document Z, see my review […]


  6. […] is a welcome addition to a growing number of Australian books exploring Cold War history, such as Document Z by Andrew Croome, by The Memory Room by Christopher Koch, and Katherine Brabon’s The Memory […]


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