There Was Still Love…
About the Book:
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 Liska’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.
There Was Still Love is a deeply moving little novel, its story less of a story and more of a snapshot of life within one family, as conveyed through the eyes of two children: Ludek, who lives in Prague, and Mala Liska, who lives in Melbourne. Both children are being brought up by their grandmothers who are twin sisters living on opposite sides of the world. The novel alternates between Melbourne and Prague, allowing the reader to not only get a feel for this family, but also a bead on what life itself is like for each family within the place they reside. Given the novel is narrated by children, there is a surprising amount of insight conveyed, both socially and politically. Between each shift from Melbourne to Prague are memories, inserted to show the experiences of each adult character and how these have shaped them into the person they are in the present day.
“I did not know what the word wog meant, but I knew that it felt like a giant spotlight suddenly shone on my grandma to make sure that everybody knew she did not belong. To make sure she felt ashamed of her accent, ashamed of her face, ashamed of the way she loved the taste of caraway seeds in her light rye bread.”
I grew up in the 1980s, and like Mala Liska, I was, for the most part, cared for by my maternal grandparents, who were European migrants. I found There Was Still Love to be an achingly nostalgic read, sometimes almost too much so, reminding me of all that is now gone since the deaths of my beloved grandparents. Don’t be fooled by the childlike observations and daily miniature that fill the pages of this novel. The apparent simplicity is but a veneer for the depths beneath. This is, however, a quiet novel. Literary fiction that is entirely about the characters only: who they are, how they interact with each other, how their experiences have shaped them, how the communities in which they live in affect them. There is no plot, no build up to something more; it just is. You begin in the same place you end, but somehow richer for the insight it offers. I can’t think of any other way to describe the novel other than in this manner.
“Babi’s hand was on his shoulder now. It was warm and solid and he felt her take it all like always – take the weight, the bad feelings. They lifted off him and sunk down into her large body. They became solid in her flesh.
‘Okay,’ Babi said after a while. ‘Go and wash up.’
Ludek paused in the doorway. He looked at her – his babi. All those years of carrying so much. All the years of being stuck and having to keep everything going. And he knew that Babi held it all so that he did not have to. Babi held it all so that he could stay free.”
I loved how the author showed connections between the characters via traditions. Mala Liska and Ludek had never met, yet it was precious to read about them both liking the cream from the cucumber salad – little connections across space and time that can exist within families even when their members are apart, or, as is the case here, physically unknown to each other. Once again, I was reminded of meeting family members from Belgium and delighting in our preferences for the same food, prepared the same way. Meeting each other for the first time wearing the same custom-made earrings. This level of family connection is not something I’ve come across in a novel before and it was richly rewarding to discover it within this one.
There Was Still Love is a slim novel, but it’s brimming with heart and feeling. A great one for those who enjoy character driven narratives and literary fiction.
Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of There Was Still Love for review.
About the Author:
In 2011, Favel Parrett’s career was launched with her critically acclaimed debut PAST THE SHALLOWS. A heart-breaking novel, it was sold internationally, shortlisted in the prestigious Miles Franklin Award and won the Dobbie Literary Award. Favel herself won the ABIA Newcomer of the Year Award in 2012. Her next novel, WHEN THE NIGHT COMES, was also critically acclaimed and further consolidated Favel’s reputation with booksellers and readers. Favel’s short stories have been published in various journals including Island, Griffith Review and Wet Ink. THERE WAS STILL LOVE is Favel’s eagerly awaited third novel.
For more information, visit favelparrett.com.au or twitter.com/favelparrett.
There Was Still Love
Published by Hachette Australia
Released 24th September 2019