Monday 17 May 2021

Two White Queens and The One-Eyed Jack

Finished May 12 
Two White Queens and The One-Eyed Jack by Heidi Von Palleske

This book is a winner. It takes you into the world of four young people, following their lives from the age of six to their early twenties. Gareth and Johnny are best friends, up for any adventure. When Gareth climbs a tree successfully, Johnny is urged to tackle it after him, climbing higher and higher, but he falls, and is hurt. The fall results in the loss of one of Johnny's eyes. Gareth struggles with the guilt he feels of urging Johnny on. The boys remain friends, but for a long while, there is distance between them that wasn't there before. Interestingly, the incident results in another revelation, the fact that Gareth's older brother Tristan is blind in one eye. As Gareth's family deals with this, and numerous doctor visits are kept, Gareth has a random encounter with two young girls in a waiting room.
These two girls are twin sister, Blanca and Clara, albinos who live with their grandfather in a very dysfunctional family. Their mother, Faye, is living in a mental institution and they go to see her from time to time. The also spend time at the home of their uncle and his family. They are bullied at school, and subjected to strict rules at home, but they find refuge in the home of their downstairs neighbour, Esther Perlman, a refugee from World War II, who was the only one in her family to escape the Nazis. Esther teaches them art and manners, and they begin to plan a way out of their situation, by taking advantage of their uniqueness instead of feeling lesser because of it. These are strong-willed girls and their intense connection with each other is their strength.
Johnny's mother Hilda, is another European immigrant, in her case running from a life that she didn't want to face. But she remembers a figure from her childhood and thinks about how he may be able to help her son. As she reconnects with Siegfried, she also finds that her relationship with her husband, already unravelling, grows even more frayed. 
As Johnny grows up, he grows tired of being the "junior" of his father and reclaims his name as Jack, and finds himself using photography as a type of replacement for his partial loss of vision. It is not until they are teenagers that the young people encounter each other again. But this time, they spend more time with each other and are influenced by each other's experiences. 
This book takes us into the past, dealing with loss and shame and the impulse to forget. But it also looks into the future, with the hope these young people have of starting anew, reinventing themselves and finding new purpose. The book's final scene is a fabulous metaphor for new beginnings. 

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