Testament by Kim Sherwood Riverrun July 12th 2018
Of everyone in her complicated family, Eva was closest to her grandfather: a charismatic painter – and a keeper of secrets. So when he dies, she’s hit by a greater loss – of the questions he never answered, and the past he never shared.
It’s then she finds the letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have uncovered the testimony he gave after his forced labour service in Hungary, which took him to the death camps and then to England as a refugee. This is how he survived.
But there is a deeper story that Eva will unravel – of how her grandfather learnt to live afterwards. As she confronts the lies that have haunted her family, their identity shifts and her own takes shape. The testament is in her hands.
Kim Sherwood’s extraordinary first novel is a powerful statement of intent. Beautifully written, moving and hopeful, it crosses the tidemark where the third generation meets the first, finding a new language to express love, legacy and our place within history.
It is an absolute privilege to be kicking of the blogtour for Testament, a novel that will not leave me for a very long time.
There is so much to talk about in this novel, that I am not quite sure where to start or if my review will even do justice to the power within the pages of Testament, but I shall try my best.
Essentially Testament was a story of the Jews and the aftermath of the terrible atrocities they endured during World War II and their struggle to comprehend and attempt to live a normal life. Sherwood used the two brothers, Jozsef and Lazlo, to show a life of two extremes, Jozsef and his desperate need to forget and move on, Lazlo and his need to remember, to never forget what happened to them. I loved how Sherwood gave them totally opposite lives, totally opposite perspectives, how she used it to heighten the tension, to show two sides of an argument, challenging me to think what I would have done, how I would have coped.
Sherwood didn’t pull any punches when describing the long distance marches, the camps and the sights Lazlo and Jozsef had to endure. The graphic imagery emanated from the pages as I read, and at times I recoiled in horror, wondering how the human race could be so cruel. I questioned the attitudes of both Lazlo and Jozsef, on the one hand wishing Lazlo could learn to bury the past and on the other hand how you could just get on with your life as if nothing ever happened, never tell anyone, but live a life built on lies like Jozsef. I came to the conclusion that neither were right, that it was their way of coping, the only way that they could get out of bed in the morning and survive.
The person I felt most empathy for was Jozsef’s granddaughter, Eva, who not only had to cope with the death of her beloved grandfather, but also come to terms with the fact that her grandfather was not the person who she thought he was. Her journey across Europe and her discoveries were incredibly moving, so very poignant, and at times I felt myself close to tears.
I loved the slow peeling back of the many layers that made up her grandfather’s life, how it shaped him and, how her own attitude towards him and her life changed the more she unearthed. The descriptions of the locations she visited and particularly that of Budapest were vivid and wonderful, and at times I felt I was right there with Eva, feeling the same emotions, seeing the same things that she saw.
You might think that The Testament is just too grim and depressing a read and yes, at times it was, but interwoven with the darkness Sherwood dropped little glimmers of hope, of redemption and of love. You see, it was not just Jozsef and Lazlo’s story it was also Eva’s story, how she came to terms with her own past, and her difficult relationship with her father. She may not have endured the horrors of her grandfather and her uncle, but she still had to come to terms with how their lives affected hers, and to discover for herself what direction her own life would take, to find her own way to forgive and accept.
Ultimately Testament is an important novel, a reminder of what Jews endured at the hands of a regime hellbent on wiping them out, of their tenaciousness and utter determination to survive. Sherwood’s writing is immersive, and compelling, filled with emotion and poignancy and I defy anyone not to be affected by the words that they read.
Testament is simply stunning.
I would like to thank Riverrun for a copy of Testament to read and review and to Ana McLaughlin for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Kim Sherwood was born in Camden in 1989 and lives in Bath. She studied Creative Writing at UEA, is now Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England, and teaches prisoners. Her pieces have appeared in Mslexia, Lighthouse, and Going Down Swinging. Kim began researching and writing Testament, her first novel, after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away and her grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. It won the 2016 Bath Novel Award.