When a masterful storyteller distils
the essence of the past and reinstates it into a meaningful, moving context for
those for whom that past never existed, the result is forcibly compelling. Inkflower
by Suzy Zail is this and more.
Zail weaves truths and imaginings
into a novel for young people that both spellbinds and beleaguers belief.
states her father taught her we have to talk about the things that scare us
before we can change them, so too must that reader experience some uncomfortable
realisations just as teen protagonist, Lisa Keller, is forced to after learning
about the terminal condition of her beloved father.
Emil Keller (formerly Rosenfeld) has
a successful career, comfortable home and doting family. And only a handful of
months left to enjoy them.
Diagnosed with the debilitating Motor Neuron Disease
MND, Emil embarks on one last quest before his time ends; to share a past that
he has never before uttered aloud to anyone, including his wife and children.
For Lisa, a bright student with
solid social standing, a promising future and burgeoning love interest, these
unexpected confronting truths are horrifying. Shame, dread and confusion
suffuse every cell of her being. As she is exposed to more and more of her
father’s past and present suffering, so too does her own life begin to unravel.
Her relationship with her bestie deteriorates. First crush and love, Adam Winter
is pushed further and further aside as a bubbling embarrassment threatens to
capsize everything Lisa thought she knew as absolute.
Discovering she is a Jew and what
her father and ancestors endured as outcast condemned Jews in WWII discolours
Lisa’s sense of self so dramatically, she is not able to share it with anyone.
To dispel some of the manifested emotional build up and grief, and somehow preserve
her father’s presence, she instead transcribes the recordings her older
brothers make of her father’s weekly ‘anecdotal dumps’. These writings transform
their family history into a tangible legacy of a man who each day becomes less and less
of the father she thought she knew.
However, the recollections of the
Holocaust and his survival of Auschwitz form an expected raft of salvation and
healing. As his physical shell weakens, his and Lisa’s relationship strengthens.
She is privy to his most vulnerable moments which in turn solidify into her
most profound principles of living. Wisdoms like: letting others in … is
freeing and when making a decision ask – if I’m not here tomorrow, what
would I wish I’d done?, remind us we need not be dying to value living.
This tender coming of age tale is
part memoire, part homage to the tenacity of life’s survivors (as we all are)
and part deep dive into a recent past (for me) told in alternating ‘then’ and ‘now’
chapters that slide gently into each other. The revisit to the 80s, a time of
corded phones, five-hour long phone conversations with your bestie and bouffant
hairstyles provide an added dimension that modern day kids might find amusingly
curious; a double dose of history as it were and suitable foil to the
atrocities of wartime events.
A writer’s job often involves
pulling their hearts out and adhering them firmly to their sleeves for all to
see and ogle over, sometimes at great personal cost. Zail has done this to
create Inkflower with consummate grace and infinite fearlessness. A read
of the highest recommendations that resounds with hope and love.
Author: Suzy Zail
Publisher: Walker Books Australia
Publication Date: 5 July 2023
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction