Author Favel Parrett
They both had big faces, strong angular faces that you could grab onto with both hands. You could hang off those faces. Stone faces that could forge through anything. Faces you would never forget.
They were not delicate, but they were useful. They could withstand a lot.
Literary fiction to me, is the smarter, layered sister of genre fiction. I don’t think either is superior (not the common belief, I know), they just have different subtleties to them. Favel Parrett came to my attention vis a vis a highly recommended list earlier this year. Past the Shallows was my first book of hers and I was equal parts devastated and awestruck with the power of that very simple but evocative story.
There Was Still Love, for me was not entirely in the same vein. We follow initially disjointed paths of characters spread across Prague and Melbourne. The grandmothers, Eva and Mana of the children Ludek (Prague) and Liska (in Melbourne) and the effect of the Cold War and post-Cold War on their lives and that of their kin. The tangled paths do, of course meet and overlap as we delve deeper but there wasn’t enough magic in the revelations nor strength in the stories to really cause a stir for me.
The language and tone are beautiful. Like Past the Shallows, the voice is soothing and will carry you through the bulk of the book before you realise there hasn’t been much progress made. Yes, I know, not all books have grand adventures – that’s not my point here. Reading this book was akin to watching a carnival through fogged glass. There’s a lot of colour and flashing but not much is clearly relayed.
Eva and Mana, as twins separated and brought together at intervals, were the most complex and best explored characters. Their grandchildren had promising journeys, yet their children were almost back seat, supporting roles. Considering the narrators are the grandchildren and at times the grandparents this was understandable to an extent. However, as the parents serve as secondary catalysts (the Cold War being primary), there was room for so much more connection and story to be shared. The random magician character annoyed me. Why? WHY?! He served minimal purpose yet was mentioned several times along the way.
The core of this book was the feeling of otherness and isolation felt and experienced by immigrants. The comparisons between us and them, me against you or with you. Some scenes captured perfectly the anxiety ridden moments a newcomer with English as a second language may feel in going about ordinary activities, locals take for granted. One of the most touching passages for me was little Eva experiencing a racist comment against her grandmother while the two are out buying bread. Her grandmother smiles shakily, finishes her purchase and waits until she’s outside before her eyes well with tears. I could imagine countless people (some of my own family) being in that situation over the years. Again, it’s not entirely explored but the passages detailing a burgeoning Melbourne are some of the most powerful.
Overall, I felt robbed of the whole (promising) story. I enjoyed the shifts and movement through time, done smoothly yet the half-heartedly explored characters was where it fell down for me.
Read it for the haunting visuals of Prague and spark and joy of growing up with immigrant parents / grandparents who suffered much so their family could have better.