Title: There Was Still Love
Author: Favel Parrett
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 24th September 2019
Synopsis: The profoundly moving new novel from the critically acclaimed and Miles Franklin shortlisted author of PAST THE SHALLOWS and WHEN THE NIGHT COMES. A tender and masterfully told story of memory, family and love.
Prague, 1938: Eva flies down the street from her sister. Suddenly a man steps out, a man wearing a hat. Eva runs into him, hits the pavement hard. His hat is in the gutter. His anger slaps Eva, but his hate will change everything, as war forces so many lives into small, brown suitcases.
Prague, 1980: No one sees Ludek. A young boy can slip right under the heavy blanket that covers this city – the fear cannot touch him. Ludek is free. And he sees everything. The world can do what it likes. The world can go to hell for all he cares because Babi is waiting for him in the warm flat. His whole world.
Melbourne, 1980: Mala Li ka’s grandma holds her hand as they climb the stairs to their third floor flat. Inside, the smell of warm pipe tobacco and homemade cakes. Here, Mana and Bill have made a life for themselves and their granddaughter. A life imbued with the spirit of Prague and the loved ones left behind.
Favel Parrett’s deep emotional insight and stellar literary talent shine through in this love letter to the strong women who bind families together, despite dislocation and distance. It is a tender and beautifully told story of memory, family and love. Because there is still love. No matter what.
Most novels that deal with World War Two and its aftermath are often focused on the Holocaust, and in Australia, Changi, and the camps that imprisoned any Australians – civilian and military in places like Singapore during the 1940s. Very rarely have I read one set in the Communist era that goes between Communist Prague in 1980 and Melbourne in the same year, telling the story of the same family, and their vastly different experiences in each place – linked by grandmothers who were sisters, and photographs of each other, and the untold stories of how the branches of the family were separated in the months leading up to World War Two in 1948.
In Prague, Ludek lives with his Babi, and his grandfather. His mother is travelling the world in a ballet company, and occasionally writes to him, but cannot visit because of the strict rules dictating circumstances should she return to Prague. Ludek has only known Prague, but whenever his great-uncle and aunt visit, he gets gifts from Australia, and an unknown cousin who lives with her grandparents.
Mala Lika lives in Melbourne, she lives an Australian life of freedom, away from Communism, but with the scars of war-torn Europe and a family torn asunder by war and post-war Communism and its impacts. The family is united because they are Czech, and because they do not speak of their experiences to the children – so the understanding of how the war years affected their family is filtered through the eyes of the children, and their experiences and understanding of language as well as the questions they ask. But the language of love crosses generations, language barriers and cultural barriers, and is the driving force behind this novel.
The familial love throughout this novel is what makes it more powerful and also what drives it forward. It is realistic – not everyone meets and nor are they always reunited – but they all love each other and are all linked together as a family. Eva and her sister are, alongside Ludek and Mala Lika, the driving forces and central characters of the novel, as their history and relationship is slowly revealed, leading up to what separated them and kept them apart for the rest of their lives.
Using first and third person for different characters, splitting each section up for each character makes this easy to follow, and also fits with the characters, their lives and what they observe. Sometimes mixing first and third person doesn’t work, but in this case it does, as does having different narrators.
Reading about how post-war politics affected families was interesting and gave new insight into what happened – the war didn’t just end. There were consequences for all, and not everyone was able to be reunited with their families. They might have been apart forever, but they would always have love.
Thus was an insightful, short and succinct story that allowed the characters to be true to who they were, within what they knew without another entity questioning it. Shown through the eyes of two child narrators for the majority of the book, apart from the flashbacks, it is accessible to all and each reader will have a different understanding, depending on how old they are and when they read it, as well as their own experiences. A nicely written book that reflects family life for what it can be.