On the cover of this book there is a comment from Sarah Winman, “A beautifully crafted book from a wonderful storyteller. It sings with humanity.” I could not agree more with Winman. This novel is beautifully crafted. The narrative is not linear, and the way Parrett leads the reader around, slowly, like the bends in a slow meandering river, is brilliant. The narrative will dip back into integral moments of the past to help the reader to understand what has happened and why. This is a very short novel and I find it hard to fathom how much Parrett has crammed into this book. Changes take place in time, geography, perspective, and the story itself is simply beautiful. The narrative is about two sisters, but it is told through the eyes of their grandchildren. It is 1980. The Cold War continues, and Russia still has Czechoslovakia gripped tightly in its icy fingers.
One grandchild, Ludek, lives in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the other, “Mala Liska” or Little Fox lives in Melbourne, Australia. From their perspective we see how different the lives are for both families and how they each struggle on different sides of the Iron Curtain. This novel is also about displacement, and even though one family lives away from the communist regime, sometimes from their thoughts and actions they may be the poorer for it. “It is easy to think somewhere else is better. But when you leave home there are things you miss that you never imagined you would. Small things. Like the smell of the river, or the sound of rain on the cobblestones, the taste of local beer. You long to have those things again – to see them, to smell them – and when you do, you know that you are home.” “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 bread rye.”
I cannot emphasise how beautiful, and beautifully told this story is. The idea for the story to be told from the grandchildren’s perspective works amazingly. Both grandchildren, with their young minds, only have a small grasp of their family’s circumstances. This adds to the readers clouding of the full story. This enables Parrett to reveal the family’s histories slowly with quick short chapters that take place in the past. I don’t want to say anymore because it is such a short novel and I believe it will enrich the reader’s experience not knowing too much about the narrative. Part of the joy of this novel is slowly piecing together the history of the sisters. Brilliant. 5 Stars!
Parrett's first novel, Past the Shallows, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary award 2012 and also won the Dobbie Literary Prize and Newcomer of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards.
She was awarded the Antarctic Arts Fellowship allowing her to travel to Antarctica to complete research for her second novel, When the Night Comes.
Her latest novel There Was Still Love, was published in September 2019 by Hachette Australia, and is longlisted for the 2020 Stella Prize.
Wonderful information about Parrett and the book at SydneyMorning Herald here -