Title: The Deceptions
Author: Suzanne Leal
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 31st March 2020
Synopsis: Long-buried family secrets surface in a compelling new novel from the author of The Teacher’s Secret.
Moving from wartime Europe to modern day Australia, The Deceptions is a powerful story of old transgressions, unexpected revelations and the legacy of lives built on lies and deceit.
Prague, 1943. Taken from her home in Prague, Hana Lederova finds herself imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt, where she is forced to endure appalling deprivation and the imminent threat of transportation to the east. When she attracts the attention of the Czech gendarme who becomes her guard, Hana reluctantly accepts his advances, hoping for the protection she so desperately needs.
Sydney, 2010. Manipulated into a liaison with her married boss, Tessa knows she needs to end it, but how? Tessa’s grandmother, Irena, also has something to hide. Harkening back to the Second World War, hers is a carefully kept secret that, if revealed, would send shockwaves well beyond her own fractured family.
Inspired by a true story of wartime betrayal, The Deceptions is a searing, compassionate tale of love and duplicity-and family secrets better left buried.
‘The Deceptions is a stunning example of the way fiction tells war better than any other form – I could taste its madness, its horror. Saw from the outside, its utter absurdity. For days after reading the novel I found myself wrestling with the price of betrayal, and the value of truth.’ – Sofie Laguna, winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award
‘At what cost can a survivor of hell rebuild a seemingly normal life? The Deceptions is a gripping and tragic story for our times.’ – Leah Kaminsky, author of The Hollow Bones
‘Impossible to put down. Leal is a master storyteller. Mesmerising, heartbreaking, honest-The Deceptions is ferociously good.’ – Nikki Gemmell, author of After
‘Those who grew up in the shadow of the Second World War had Elie Wiesel’s Night to define for them the enormity for the Holocaust. Those who were born later can now rely upon Suzanne Leal’s brilliant and confronting novel The Deceptions to open their eyes to the true horrors of Nazism.’ – Alan Gold, author of Bloodline
Moving between the war and 2010 using four perspectives, sign posted by the names of the characters – Ruth, Hana, Karel and Tessa – with Hana’s story being told in first person, and the others in third person – The Deceptions is the story of decades long secrets, family and survival, and the sacrifices made to keep family safe. Hana and Tessa tell the majority of the story, with Karel and Ruth making appearances throughout. Hana’s story is woven throughout from the start to the end – her life and death and her time in the ghetto and at Auschwitz. Whilst there, she has her own secrets that she cannot share with anyone – does not share with anyone until one of the women she is trapped with at Auschwitz notices and helps her through the trying months.
The Deceptions is based on stories Suzanne heard from her landlords, Fred and Eva Perger, and Suzanne has managed to seamlessly separate fact from fiction and allow the fictional counterparts to interact with the real life experiences in a way that feels so real, it is almost overpowering and allows the reader to explore this part of history that has been retold in a new way. Most people will only think of the faceless mass of numbers – yet assigning a name and identity to those affected, the victims and their families, shows the enormity of what actually happened. These were real people, with homes and families, and lives. Yet in stripping them of these, the Nazis were able to carry out their atrocities. When we think of the victims, we must try to remember that they had names, and I think this is where books like Suzanne’s and Fred and Eva’s stories come in – they allow us to see the people behind the numbers.
Hana is the Jewish narrator, whose story is told in first person. Karel, the Czech gendarme from Theresienstadt and his granddaughter Tessa tell their stories – a story of reflection and a story of an affair that ends abruptly. Finally, Ruth, the minister – whose story is interwoven throughout in regard to her relationship with her father and Tessa and Karel. Each are connected by the Holocaust and the way it touched and continues to touch many interconnected lives – there is no end to the trauma. It never goes away.
Suzanne doesn’t meander or waffle, the story is clear and crisp – direct, you could say, in the way her characters relate their stories. It seems there is no beating around the bush with what is happening and what has happened. She questions morality and truth and allows the reader and characters to make up their own minds. Some stories were wrapped up, others were not tied up so neatly and that is okay – that is what real life is like. It is a thought-provoking novel about what we do in certain circumstances, how we are challenged and how we face what we have done. I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it adds something special to the current lot of Holocaust stories that are available.