Reviewed by E.B.Heath
Historical facts and figures are mainly concerned with the machinations of political actors, only presenting shadow images of an era. It takes a skilled author to colour the lived experience of citizens for any depth of understanding to occur. In her latest novel, There Was Still Love, Favel Parrett gives readers a poignant insight into the life of one Czechoslovakian family living behind the Iron Curtain.
The novel jumps back and forth between Melbourne and Prague, from 1981 to 1938. Through the history of this family, readers experience life in Czechoslovakia, the effects of the 1938 Munich Agreement handing Germans Sudetenland, and later Russian annexation and the Cold War. There Was Still Love is about a family scattered, how Czechoslovakians felt forgotten by the rest of the World. How women nurtured families, creating loving homes so their children and grandchildren would survive and thrive.
Sixteen-year-old twin sisters, Mana and Eva, are separated when the German army invades Czechoslovakia, prevented from reuniting during the Cold War. Mana lives in Melbourne with her husband Bill and is raising her granddaughter Mala Liska, whereas Eva stayed in Prague and is raising Ludek. Ludek’s mother is travelling with The Black Light Theatre, the government is keeping Ludek in Prague to ensure his mother would not seek asylum. The novel is narrated mainly through the perspective of the two children, Ludek and Mala Liska.
Whereas Eva is trapped in Prague, unable to travel, or know anything much about the rest of the world, she is at least living within her own culture. Mana is free but living in an alien culture. Her heavily accented English marks her as an immigrant. She experiences prejudice and aggression. Regardless of the difficult circumstances, each sister creates a loving home for her grandchild. A place of harmony, free from judgment, of warmth and love. Parrett uses a statue in Prague of Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders to illustrate the role of mothers and grandmothers who gave up their lives for their children and grandchildren. Readers understand this, to a large extent, through the eyes of Ludek, who spends hours searching Prague for this famed but almost hidden statue.
The power of this novel is in the telling. Readers not familiar with Favel Parrett’s work might be mystified how her simple, pared back prose can convey so much depth. The minimalistic form of expression is deceptively simple. Parrett creates meaning by simply stating how Ludek and Mala Liska are feeling about what they can see happening. Through the eyes of the children readers feel the truth of the novel.
Reading the ‘Author’s Note’ (p.211) it became clear that so much of this work is true. The grandparents’ story is real family history. Brave Ludek is still living in Prague as Martin Schönweitz. Parrett writes that her cousin was an invaluable source for her research. So, hence the depth of emotion and immediacy!
A most interesting author – Recommended!
There Was Still Love
By Favel Parrett
Paperback: ISBN 9780733630682
Audiobook: ISBN 9780733642999
e-Book: ISBN 9780733630095