There are no winners in war.
In Miles Franklin-nominated author Favel Parrett’s third novel, teenage twin sisters – vibrant, smart, mostly happy – are wrenched apart at the beginning of World War II. Four decades later, in 1980, one is still in Prague and the other lives in Melbourne, each tasked with looking after her grandchild. Each sister also holds in her heart a quiet resentment for the other: the one in Prague has endured war and Communism, while her twin has struggled to build a new life and family while also learning a new language.
Narrated mostly from the perspective of the two grandchildren, There Was Still Love is a slim yet powerful novel. In brief chapters, Parrett concentrates on the relationship between grandparent and grandchild, leaving the middle generation largely silent. This imbues the novel with a sense of mystery as the grandchildren grapple with the oddities they see in their grandparents’ behaviour – why is Grandma so afraid of answering the phone? – but dare not question.
For Mala Liska, or Little Fox, who lives in Melbourne, her grandma and grandpa are her whole world: together, they are a trio living in perfect harmony. Then there is Luděk in Prague, living with his babi while his mother travels the world with the Black Light Theatre. Luděk is brash and cheeky, perhaps as a cover for how much he misses his mother.
The beauty in this novel comes from its quiet scenes. For instance, Mala Liska’s grandpa stays up recording Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on videotape, pausing for all the ad breaks so that Mala Liska can “put the tape on and stay in that world of pure imagination”. Or when Luděk’s “rich” Australian aunt and uncle bring him the latest fashion – a parka and jeans, which are too big but from the fabled West. And perhaps the most moving of all is when Mala Liska and her grandma are met with a sneering insult of “wog” at the market: her grandma’s response is one of stoicism and bravery.
Parrett has dedicated this novel to her grandparents, saying she regrets not asking them the many questions she attempts to answer through this book. Whether or not the twins’ separation really happened in the way Parrett describes, the novel’s truth lies in the power of familial love to endure across time, distance and even war.
Hachette, 224pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 19, 2019 as "Favel Parrett, There Was Still Love".
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