2019, 210 p.
There is an unsettling synchronicity about writing a review of this book while our government is closing its borders and our lives are being upended and constricted by government fiat. The parallels between our current situation and the 20th century of Czechoslovakia are slim, however. I may not hold my grandchildren for six months, but the rupture in the lives of those who escaped the fall of the Iron Curtain and those who did not was far deeper. But, as the title says, there was still love.
There are three threads in this book. One of them takes place in Melbourne in 1980, with young Malá living in with her Czech grandparents, Mána and Bill, cocooned in the warmth of their love in a frugal and ordered household typical of many post-war refugees. At the same time, there is her cousin Ludek, also living with his grandmother Babi in Prague, completely unaware of his cousin’s existence. He yearns for his mother Alena to return from her tour of the West with a theatrical company, and doesn’t realize that the government is using him as the lure and tether to bring her back to Czechoslovakia.
It is only near the end of the book that you realize the link between these two stories of grandchildren, wrapped in the love of their grandmothers. The two grandmothers were sisters, and by sheer happenstance, one ended up in the West and the other in the East. Their lives diverged at that point, even though they ran along parallel lines.
There is no great build-up or denouement in the book, which is gentle and quiet. I will confess to finding it a little difficult to follow. The narrative swaps back and forth between Melbourne and Prague and across time, with the focus on different characters whose names rather too similar – Malá, Mana, Ludek and (admittedly, a surname, Liska). I found myself wondering why she chose to structure the book in this way. Perhaps it was to make more complex what was actually a simple, if profound story?
What comes through most in this book is, as the title suggests, love. Love between sisters separated by distance and ideology; love between mother and child, and most of all love between grandparent and grandchild – each time, flowing both ways.
My rating: 8.5/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.
I have included this in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020.