There Was Still Love

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

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.
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This was not "my kind of book". 
I love family stories, but I just couldn't get on with the writing style that everyone else seems to love. 
I found it extremely abrupt and I don't feel like I'm close enough to the characters. There is some lovely prose sprinkled in between, but overall I didn't enjoy it.
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"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.”

There Was Still Love is the third novel by award-winning Australian author, Favel Parrett. In Melbourne, in 1980, Malá Liška watches her grandparents save their 50c pieces up for their trip to Czechoslovakia. While they are gone, she'll stay with Uncle Joe. In Prague, in 1980, Luděk sees his great uncle and aunt arrive, once again, for their six-week stay with his Babi. The women will spend all their time chattering about times gone by, and he will go for walks with Uncle Bill. 

It is through the eyes of these two children, and a few snippets from other family in earlier times, that the reader learns how this close, loving family was separated. A chance encounter with the wrong person changed the future. Resentment and anger are buried deep underneath the happy façade, until one day, the words are spoken. But despite how it has all turned out, there is love, much love, and Luděk and Malá Liška always feel surrounded by it.

Without resorting to lengthy descriptions, Parrett easily evokes both the era and the place. She also effortlessly conveys a myriad of feelings and emotions, but most especially, homesickness. Her characters are fully developed and do not fail to draw the reader’s empathy. The Author’s Note indicates that she has drawn on her own family’s experience and the authenticity of her characters is undeniable.

What a delight young Luděk is: “Uncle Bill had a system. He ate everything evenly so that each different food on his plate disappeared at the same rate. This included whatever he was drinking. There was never more of one thing than another, and his last mouthful always included a bit of everything. Luděk had tried to copy this system a few times, but it was no good. What if you got full and you wasted your belly space eating cabbage? You might have to leave a dumpling behind, and someone else might eat it before you found room again. It was better to eat your favourite food first. All of it. Then your second favourite, and then the rest. Luděk ate his schnitzel first, all of it. The adults got two and he got one and there were no more left.”

There are numerous echoes of Luděk’s world in Prague in Malá Liška’s world in Melbourne, delightful little surprises that really shouldn’t be, given the closeness of the sisters. Parrett’s third foray into literature is beautifully written and does not disappoint. This is a talented author whose further works will be eagerly anticipated. 
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Hachette Australia.
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‘People carry little brown suitcases.’

A novel which moves between Melbourne and Prague, a novel which explores the ties between family members, the ties between past and present, the role of both love and opportunity.
It starts in Prague, in 1938, when Eva runs into a man as she is running down the street.  That encounter will change many lives.  And in Prague in 1980, a city blanketed by fear, Ludék is free.  His Babi is waiting for him in their warm flat. His world. Half a world away, in Melbourne, Malá Liška and her grandmother climb the stairs to their third floor flat.  Here, Máňa and Bill have created a new life, a life tied in many ways to the Prague they once lived in and where they still have family.

‘There is still love.  And there is still cake, sometimes.’

How are these elements of the story tied together?  How did Máňa and Bill leave Prague?  How are the connections maintained with those left behind? Ludék’s mother is travelling outside Prague, performing with the Black Theatre, and all he wants is for her to return home.  In the meantime, he explores Prague in search of landmarks from stories he is told at home. In Melbourne, Malá Liška learns about her grandparent’s life in Prague. Ludék’s mother is visiting, and she is torn between wanting to establish a new life with new opportunities and returning to the family she loves in Prague.  In 1980, having both is not possible.

There are differences between life in Prague and life in Melbourne in 1980, but for Malá Liška and Ludék, secure in their homes with their grandparents, those differences are muted somewhat by love.  

‘Nothing is all good or all bad,’ he said. ‘There are problems everywhere.’

I kept reading, wanting to learn more about the past, about the connections between people, about how the two sisters came to be separated by World War II, about transplanted lives and secrets.

‘Old people liked the old ways.’

This is Ms Parett’s third novel, and I loved it.  This is a novel to read slowly, to consider and to revisit.  She has dedicated it to her grandparents: while it is fictional, it is loosely based on both her family and actual events.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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This is the story of two Czech sisters, who have been impacted by events during the Second World War and, later, the Prague Spring. They are separated, with one in Australia and one remaining in Prague. Eva, in Prague, looks after her tearaway grandson while his mother tours Australia with a theatre group. Mana, in Melbourne looks after her orphaned grand-daughter while saving for the occasional return home.

This is an affecting story which looks at the pain of separation and loss, while also showing a growing awareness of the younger generation of just what the old people who surround them went through in their lives.
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This was a beautiful novel about the devastation of war and the strong binding love between members of a family. The writing was fantastic and although the writing is simple, it is complex. I loved this!
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Australian author Favel Parrett's Past The Shallows and When the Night Comes are two of my favourite books. It meant I had high expectations for her latest, There Was Still Love which is always worrying... for me anyway, but it certainly did not disappoint.

It. Is. Utterly. Bewitching.

The prologue of this book was only one page long and consisted of just a few paragraphs. About suitcases. Brown suitcases. And I was smitten. It introduces the recurring theme of suitcases which (I don't think) is a huge metaphor, but rather a reminder of what we keep locked or hidden away and what we carry and take with us.

Then we meet a couple of our key characters and I was only on the second page when I was so besotted with the writing I felt obliged to send a message to Parrett via Twitter to tell her. I've not met her, but we've engaged online so I'm hoping she didn't think it weird or creepy that I had to tell her how magical her writing was. (Well, is.)

I highlighted paragraph after paragraph.

It'd been a while since I'd read Parrett's work so I couldn't remember if her earlier prose had been the same: short eloquent sentences. Some just phrases. But each of them singing.

How can someone pull words together so beautifully I wondered?

I felt envious of Parrett's talent but not jealous. It's a bit like being in the presence of some master painter or performer. You know you're witnessing amazing talent and just in awe.

The story itself deviates from her usual style (well, from her previous two books). It's essentially about a family - two sisters, torn apart during World War II and the direction their lives have since taken.

Mana is married to fellow Czech Bill (originally Vilem) and lives in Melbourne with their grand-daughter, referred to as Mala Liska (little fox), because of her red hair.

Eva is widowed and still lives in Prague, looking after her grandson Ludoslav (Ludek) whose mother is away performing with The Black Light Theatre. The novel jumps between the 1940s, 1960s and its current day setting of 1980. And even in 1980, she is only allowed to travel with the theatrical troupe providing her son Ludek remains in Prague with his grandmother.

I didn't find the plot as devastating as Past The Shallows or poignant as When The Night Comes. It is however, a different type of novel.

It's an homage of sorts. I think. It's more focussed more on people and their stories more than on events.

Nothing much happens. (Well, in the present.) But I was riveted and this bewitching tale of families impacted by war, by prejudice and having to start lives anew drew me in.

I loved the way Parrett wrote the two children... living parallel lives on opposite sides of the world.. Their lives the same but different. Both living with grandparents, with absent parents and kinda wayward uncles. Appreciative of the love and security they have.

'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.

He was not like Atlas - but she was.' p 132

Parrett dedicates this book to her grandparents and though says much is fictitious it's also loosely based on her family and actual events of the time.

There's a strong sense of family. Of home.

'It is easy to think somewhere else is better. But when you leave home, there are thing 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.'  p 86

The stories of Eva, Mana and Vilem (Bill) are sad but uplifting at the same time. Although there's a strong sense of both regret, resolution and acceptance.

'The only way to live now is to keep moving and not look back. It is the only way his heart can keep beating and not break. He must look froward - and never behind.

He must never look behind.' p 103

There's a reminder too of what many have had to go through, safe finally, so far from home. But still different. I was horrified by a scene in which Mana is the target of a racial slur (it made me cry) but realise this could still happen today.

'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.' p 139

This is one of the most beautifully-written books I've read. And it's cemented Favel Parrett as my favourite author, in terms of the beauty, eloquence and magic of her words and her ability to stun or quieten me with her simple melodic prose.

I can't even imagine how honoured and proud Parrett's grandparents would be to have their lives and those of their fellow countrymen (and contemporaries, as I think Parrett's grandfather was English) reflected so sympathetically and beautifully.

'They spoke in Czech, softly. Voices crisscrossed the room - over and over until I could no longer tell who was talking. They had become one person. A person who had lived two different lives - separated by so much distance - but one all the same.' p 203
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Favell Parrett's AFTER THE SHALLOWS is one of my absolutely favourite books, so I was really excited to see she had a new title available. As always, her prose is so evocative and beautiful. She weaves the threads of the three times/locations together so cleverly, and I was completely immersed in the story.
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