'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Review: Inkflower

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. 

She states her father taught her we have to talk about the things that scare us before we can change them, so too must the 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 unexpected 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.   

Title:  Inkflower
Author:  Suzy Zail
Publisher:  Walker Books Australia, $22.99
Publication Date:  5 July 2023
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760653736
For ages:  14+
Type:  Young Adult Fiction