There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

there was still loveTitle: There Was Still Love

Author: Favel Parrett

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 24th September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 215

Price: $29.99

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.

2019 Badge

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.

Book Bingo Nineteen: Themes of Culture

20181124_140447

It’s September, and time for book bingo again with Theresa and Amanda. This means I have six to seven books left on my card to fill in, some of which I am unsure of what to do. Science Fiction is always a tricky, because there are times it crosses over with fantasy. I initially had the book I’m using for this square under science fiction but decided to change it to this square.

48987121_1508329715968294_4870693570241101824_n

When it came to Themes of Culture, there were many ways to go – made up, national, historical and all the arms that splinter off from each of those areas and many more. As I had assigned a more obvious book for this category, I stretched culture out to post-war culture based on this book. So, I assigned a new book – The Lost Magician by Piers Torday here.

lost magician

Set in 1945, World War Two is over, and Patricia, Simon, Evie and Larry are sent to the country while their parents search for a new house. Hints of their lives during war time come through, illustrating that the life and culture of a post-war England had some differences to what had come before and would evolve in the decades to come. It also shows the clash of cultures in the book world, of the various factions of books and their characters who have and have not been read – the past, and the future, and the finished and the unfinished stories, and how they grapple with their own cultural differences in another world unfamiliar to the four children.

This made this book a good choice for this round – it showed the different ways culture can be explored and the cultural impact stories have on us. With the next book out later this year, I hope to return to the world of Folio for more adventures.

Row Three:

Themes of Science Fiction:

Themes of Culture:The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

Themes of Justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Themes of Inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Themes of Fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019

 

Row Two:

Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Themes of culture: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

Book set in the Australian outback:

Written by an Australian woman: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

See you next time!

The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

the burnt country.jpgTitle: The Burnt Country

Author: Joy Rhoades

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Bantam

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The stunning new novel from the author of The Woolgrower’s Companion, whom the Australian Women’s Weekly described as ‘a wonderful new voice in literary rural fiction’.
A scandalous secret. A deadly fire. An agonizing choice.

Australia 1948. As a young woman running Amiens, a sizeable sheep station in New South Wales, Kate Dowd knows she’s expected to fail. And her grazier neighbour is doing his best to ensure she does, attacking her method of burning off to repel a bushfire.

But fire risk is just one of her problems. Kate cannot lose Amiens or give in to her estranged husband Jack’s demands to sell: the farm is her livelihood and the only protection she can offer her half-sister Pearl, as the Aborigines Welfare Board threatens to take her away.

Ostracised by the local community for even acknowledging Pearl, Kate cannot risk another scandal. Which means turning her back on her wartime lover, Luca Canali …

Then Jack drops a bombshell. He wants a divorce. He’ll protect what’s left of Kate’s reputation, and keep Luca out of it – but for an extortionate price.

Soon Kate is putting out fires on all fronts to save her farm, keep her family together and protect the man she loves. Then a catastrophic real fire threatens everything . . .

~*~

Set on a farm in country NSW, The Burnt Country is unique amongst rural fiction I have read. It’s 1948, and World War Two has been over for three years. Kate Dowd has been running the sheep station Amiens alone since her father died and her husband, Jack, left her. Left to support herself, her half-sister, Pearl, Pearl’s mother Daisy, and another relative, Harry, Kate is faced with decisions about selling and rumours floating around town about her family.

Yet it is a time of drought as well, and whilst the fires of what people want from her and expect from her start to flicker around her, a very real fire threatens her home and community, and leads to investigations and events that could change Kate, her community, family and Amiens forever.

Her wartime lover, Luca, and ex, Jack return at about the same time. Yet this storyline does not take over, rather, the romance bubbles beneath the main storyline of family and home, and what it takes to protect what you hold close. Throughout the novel, the dark spectre of Jack looms as he comes in and out of Kate’s life with threats, demands and conditions to go along with a divorce he demands. He knows Kate cannot pay the price he demands, and Kate and her friends use their knowledge and skills to uncover what Jack is after – so there is a bit of a mystery in this book to go along with bubbling romances – two, it turns out, and one of which I felt was a lot more prominent between another couple, and it was one I quite enjoyed,

2019 BadgeDetermined to help her family, and stand up for herself, Kate does what she can to get them through a bushfire that sweeps across the region. I was swept up in this book, because it allowed Kate to be a woman of her time, but at the same time, she stood up for what she believed in, and what was right. She did not let what many people saw as normal and right dictate what she should do, and she showed compassion and strength in the face of accusations that at one point, she feels she cannot defend herself against.

Kate faces blatant sexism and disrespect as she does things her way, from her burning off method, to hiding Daisy and Pearl from the Aborigines Welfare Board – determined that they won’t be separated and determined to make the necessary sacrifices to save her family and her farm. It is a story about a woman who finds herself in circumstances she never foresaw, much more than a romance. It is a very human story, with circumstances and a setting very real to many Australians, as the threat of drought and bushfire linger all the time in rural communities. This aspect was my favourite, because I believe it really allowed Kate to shine and grow as she stood up to those who doubted her who blamed her for things beyond her control and knowledge. It showed that those who are loyal to you in times of trouble are important and true family will always find a way to come back together.

Populated with a diverse group of characters from several backgrounds and attitudes, like many books, The Burnt Country is a snapshot of a community, illustrating a variety of views that we see as abominable today, yet would have been accepted in the post-war years.  Including these is undeniably uncomfortable, but at the same time, we shouldn’t shy away from a very real reality that many faced in the mid-twentieth century in those conditions. It is a great novel, because Kate does not allow what society expects dictate what she does, and she is a wonderful character, and her story is powerful. It is always good to see women in fiction front and centre beyond romance, perhaps with romance bubbling on the side or in the background. Seeing them in other positions and plots shows there are many more aspects to these characters than might be present in some places.

The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

the honourable thief.jpgTitle: The Honourable Thief

Author: Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 31/7/2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘Achilles? Because…?’
‘Obsession of mine. Half man, half god – and his own worst enemy. 
My kind of man.’ He laughed.

Istanbul, Turkey 1955

Benedict Hitchens, once a world-renowned archaeologist, is now a discredited – but still rather charming – shell of his former self.

Once full of optimism and adventure, his determination to prove that Achilles was a real historical figure led him to his greatest love, Karina, on the island of Crete and to his greatest downfall, following the disappearance of an enigmatic stranger, Eris.

He has one last chance to restore his reputation, solve the mystery of Eris and prove his Achilles theory. But it is full of risk, and possibly fatal consequences…

In her breakout novel, Meaghan Wilson Anastasios weaves an action-packed tale of honour, passion, heroes and thieves across an epic backdrop of history.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1955, archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is searching for proof that Achilles, a hero from the Trojan War legends, was a real person, and not just a myth in Homer’s Iliad and other interpretations of the Trojan War myth cycle. This is the main crux for the novel, despite there being no evidence to suggest Achilles existed, and it makes for a very compelling story about the intersection of mythology, history and archaeology, especially given that in ancient history, archaeological remains are perhaps what tell us the most about a society where written records may be mythology based or fragmented. But there is more to Benedict (Ben) than discovering the burial place and shield of Achilles. It’s been ten years since World War Two ended, and he is living with the scars and memories of loss, and tragedy that will never leave him. Living a lonely existence on archaeological digs across the peninsular that was home to the Trojans and the islands of Greece, such as Crete, where the Minoan and Mycenean civilisations thrived, Ben has become obsessed with proving the existence of Achilles.

This obsession deepens when he stumbles across the mysterious Eris, travelling to a home in Turkey where she reveals a cache of hidden treasures and archaeological finds that are linked to the period of history he is obsessed with, that he hopes will lead him to Achilles and in the aftermath of his fall from grace as an archaeologist, he hopes the discovery will restore his reputation.

But Eris has secrets, secrets she’s not willing to share with Ben, and throughout the novel, his encounters with Eris, Ilhan, a shady figure whose dealings helped bring about Ben’s downfall, and many other nefarious people, weave a mystery through the novel – the disappearance of Eris and the treasures, thieves, and forgery in the archaeological and ancient art community comes to light, and Ben is caught up in this web, finding items in unconventional ways, where he doesn’t realise whom it is for, and where secret upon secret is layered on to ensure he does not find out the truth.

The end was quite the surprise – equal parts unexpected and something I thought might happen, and as the novel moved back and forth between Ben’s present and his past, his motivations and reasons for feeling what he felt at times became clear, though there was always a sense that a Big Bad Thing had happened and happened to someone Ben cared about very deeply.

As a student of ancient history, the references to Crete, the Minoans, Homer and his lliad were some of my favourite things about the book – they instantly fell into a timeline in my head of this period and imagined him traipsing around the various sites such as Knossos and Troy in Turkey, where Schliemann excavated during the nineteenth century. It was an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and found engaging, just as much as the mystery was, which mainly took place in Turley and Greece, but occasionally went back to England and America. It is a gripping novel, where action and adventure, history and mythology intersect to create a chase to solve a question and obsession that has plagued Ben, and that he will do anything to ensure finds its rightful place in history.

Booktopia

Book Bingo Eight – a book that has been made into a movie, a book that scared you.

book bingo 2018.png

For my two categories this week, I have chosen a book that has been made into a movie, and a book that scared me. The book made into a movie was easy – as there are quite a few to choose from, whereas the book that scared me was trickier – as I’m not a horror reader, I interpreted this differently and decided to use a book that had scared me – but less in a monsters and demons way, and more in a human way, which I will explain lower down.

guernseyFirst, the book I read for the book that has been turned into a movie was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which arrived in one of my many packages of books from publishers this month and was a rather pleasant surprise. I read it quickly, choosing to read it first as it was the shortest and only took a few days – whereas the other books, which might fill the rest of these categories, are taking a little bit longer. Told in letters, it is easy to follow, as the letters give as much detail as possible, and it was interesting to imagine what was happening in between. As I said in the review, I really liked that the main character, Juliet, had her own mind and knew what she wanted, and didn’t drop everything at the demands and say-so of the man courting her. My full review is linked above, and it will be interesting to see how the movie interprets this book.

good doctor of warsawNow we come to the book that scared me, and for this I chose The Good Doctor of Warsaw, because I had a multitude of emotions with this book. It didn’t scare or horrify me in the way one expects a horror movie or novel to – it scared me in the sense that it showed the true evil and depravity that humans are capable of, and what they have done in the past to people  for no other reason than the Nazis didn’t like something about them that didn’t harm anyone – something that has happened multiple times across human history in various places, and that should never happen again, or at all. I chose this because I feel that a book that scares you doesn’t necessarily need to have ghosts, or monsters, or zombies that we associate with the horror genre. Sometimes, it’s more horrifying to read about what humans are capable and willing to do to other humans – where the overwhelming fear comes from knowing what will happen and knowing that this could happen again. It’s chilling as well as scary.

So there’s two more books ticked off – my next post will see the short stories ticked off, and maybe one or two others. I am gearing up to complete a second card, which I will either fill with books only read in the second half of the year, or mix it up and switch around some of the books and categories here where I can. Either way, it’s making my reading challenges interesting and fun for 2018.

Booktopia

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

guernsey.jpgTitle: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Genre: Literary Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: Movie tie-in published 21st March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Price: $22.99

Synopsis:A celebration of literature, love, and the power of the human spirit, this warm, funny, tender, and thoroughly entertaining novel is the story of an English author living in the shadow of World War II and the writing project that will dramatically change her life. An international bestseller.

‘I can’t remember the last time I discovered a novel as smart and delightful as this one. Treat yourself to this book, please–I can’t recommend it highly enough.’
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

The beloved, life-affirming international bestseller–now a major film coming in April 2018, starring Lily James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton.

It’s 1946. The war is over, and Juliet Ashton has writer’s block. But when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey–a total stranger living halfway across the Channel, who has come across her name written in a second-hand book–she enters into a correspondence with him, and in time with all the members of the extraordinary Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Through their letters, the society tell Juliet about life on the island, their love of books–and the long shadow cast by their time living under German occupation. Drawn into their irresistible world, Juliet sets sail for the island, changing her life forever.

Gloriously honest, enchanting and funny, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is sure to win your heart.

~*~

This book came to me as a surprise from Allen and Unwin, and it being the shortest of the ones that arrived the other day, I decided to read it first and work my way through the others over the next week or so. And what a lovely surprise it was! Juliet Ashton is a writer who has writer’s block and is searching for her next story. Whilst searching, she is contacted by Dawsey Adams, a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society on one of the Channel Islands, who are emerging from years of occupation by German forces during World War Two. Dawsey’s letter begins the months of correspondence between the society and Juliet, and the novel is solely told in letters and telegrams. As Juliet begins to uncover a story in Guernsey and those who live there, she is courted by Markham Reynolds, and goes to the island to do research for her book, leaving Markham behind. As Juliet corresponds with the society members and her publishers, a picture of their life and what they have been through unfolds, with heart-warming results for many of the characters of the book.

The use of letters to tell the story was really quite effective because you got to know the characters and their voices, how they thought and what they enjoyed doing, and even though some questions or letters might not have had direct answers, the questions in them were given in other letters, ensuring that their stories were told. Within these stories was that of Elizabeth and her daughter Kit, and Markham Reynolds, who was keen on Juliet. I enjoyed the way these two plot points were dealt with, and that Juliet was of her own mind, and her own person – she was probably my favourite, next to Dawsey and Kit.

Key to the society is literature, and what it means to them. The literary society they created is what got them through the war, and what they survived on – potato peel pie, and what they did to try and keep the German forces at bay and survive. It is touching and at times sad when you read some of the letters, but it has the impact needed: showing what happened and how people dealt with it. A very touching testament to the power of the human spirit, and what people do in the face of adversity for themselves and each other.

The letters are peppered with literary references, and talk about books – the solace that they give, and what they meant to the society but also the Channel Island of Guernsey as a whole, as they endured things they never thought they would endure. Literature and their society pulled them through, showing the power of literature and how it can help people in hard times.

The novel is both peaceful and heartbreaking – the memories and aftershocks of the years of German occupation are not quickly forgotten, especially as someone who knew Elizabeth and knew of her fate comes into their lives, and the realities of what was happening on the European Continent hit home for the society members. There are hints of romance, but the focus is on Juliet and the society members, and their friendship and the family they have built for themselves and Kit, whose entertaining and intriguing character is revealed through the letters.

I really enjoyed this novel and read it quite quickly. It reflects on how war can affect a small community, and in this instance, bring them closer together as family, and the way they welcomed someone else into their family and society, where they could help each other heal as they emerged from an occupation during wartime and the implications of that, where their love of literature binds them together.

Booktopia