Title: The Deceptions
Author: Suzanne Leal
Published: March 31st 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary/Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
Long-buried family secrets surface in a compelling new novel from the author of The Teacher’s Secret.
Moving from wartime Europe to modern day Australia, The Deceptions is a powerful story of old transgressions, unexpected revelations and the legacy of lives built on lies and deceit.
Prague, 1943. Taken from her home in Prague, Hana Lederova finds herself imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt, where she is forced to endure appalling deprivation and the imminent threat of transportation to the east. When she attracts the attention of the Czech gendarme who becomes her guard, Hana reluctantly accepts his advances, hoping for the protection she so desperately needs.
Sydney, 2010. Manipulated into a liaison with her married boss, Tessa knows she needs to end it, but how? Tessa’s grandmother, Irena, also has something to hide. Harkening back to the Second World War, hers is a carefully kept secret that, if revealed, would send shockwaves well beyond her own fractured family.
Inspired by a true story of wartime betrayal, The Deceptions is a searing, compassionate tale of love and duplicity-and family secrets better left buried.
The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal is about the lines of concealment, truth and lies. It is an all-consuming tale, that begs the reader to consider the impact of the war, the cost of survival and secrets, with an overarching link to morality. This novel quietly made its way deep into my consciousness and ever since I closed the final page of The Deceptions, I have been contemplating the divisive character dilemmas Leal’s book presents.
The Deceptions deftly negotiates two separate time frames. We are plunged into the depths of Europe in World War II, and then thrown into Australian life, just a decade ago. This integral tale considers long held infractions, marked truths and the toll of a life carefully crafted on false realities. The story begins with Hana Lederova, a young woman who is removed from her home in Prague and transported to a Jewish Ghetto. This crippling and prescriptive confine strips Hana of her liberty. To help safeguard her against a transfer to a concentration camp, Hana befriends a guard, who initially provides Hanna with support, but his intentions are not honourable. Hana will be issued with the biggest test of her life following this acquaintance. The Deceptions transitions to Sydney in 2010, where we meet a Tessa, a woman negotiating the consequences of an illicit affair with her superior. Meanwhile, Tessa’s grandmother Irena has a dark secret that is eating at her. Irena knows that in finally exposing this long held secret, she risks breaking her family’s heart and their collective identity. Simultaneously balancing the depths of love with duplicity, The Deceptions is a remarkable piece of historical fiction, which is guided by a true act of survival during World War II.
From teachers to the war, The Deceptions marks my second outing with author Suzanne Leal. Back in 2016, I really enjoyed Leal’s aptly titled novel, The Teacher’s Secret. As a teacher myself I found much to appreciate in this story. Leal’s latest offering is another novel that lives up to its title. The Deceptions is a book that examines the cost of living a life marred by lies and deceit. Secrets also form a significant component of the novel, as the characters navigate a hidden family mystery. I was visibly moved by the story and the moral conflicts The Deceptions presented. I think this novel will stay with me for some time to come.
It is worth noting that the historical aspect of The Deceptions is inspired by the true experiences of a lived wartime past. Leal pays tribute to this aspect of her novel in her Author’s Note.
‘Although a work of fiction, with all characters imagined rather than real, The Deceptions was inspired by a story told to me by the late Fred (Bedrich) Perger.
Just out of university, I rented a duplex in the beachside Sydney suburb of Tamarama. My Landlords, Fred Perger and Eva Perger (nee Fischerova), lived beside me and over the next six years we became very close. Czech –born and Jewish, Fred and Eva were also Holocaust survivors.
Fred’s wartime memories formed the basis of my first novel, Border Street, and for a year, Fred and I met weekly over coffee to record his stories.’
I think it is important to value this aspect of The Deceptions and I have to say that my awareness of this aspect of the story added further weight to this consuming tale. Leal is loyal to the subjects in which she bases this story on. The Deceptions is an authentic, honest, resolute and unwavering novel. The world building is a sight to behold, it is incredibly vivid and penetrating. There is realness to all the wartime sequences that assisted me to play out the scenes in this book in my head with clarity, but also fear. I was struck by the horrific fight for survival and cruelness of the world in which the protagonists in the past faced. And just when I thought I had a good handle on the Holocaust, I was issued with yet another appalling, but pertinent history of this atrocious time. I think it is important that we acknowledge these histories, not matter how hard it may be to swallow.
The modern day sequences based in Sydney are clearly realised on the pages of The Deceptions. Though not quite as moving as the wartime episodes, this aspect of the narrative still provides the reader with an important set of issues and moral puzzles to solve. There is a piercing look into our way of life and above all, how decisions in the past can have implications for years to come on the descendants of those who lived during war time. It is often hard to acknowledge that events in wartime Prague would still be felt so many years down the line in Australia. These remarkable bonds and wires of deception are eventually set free in the lasting moments of this sensitive text.
I really appreciated Leal’s approach to her characters. No matter the time frame or situation, each protagonist was expanded to their optimum. At first, it is hard to join the dots with the characters and their related experiences may seem disconnected. However, if you remain loyal to this novel and persist, the final links are more than startling. I have a great deal of admiration for Leal’s presentation of her characters, along with their accompanying backstories.
The Deceptions is a novel that completely revolves around the art of deception. This story considers the long lasting effects of a decision that was made to conceal personal trauma and protect future generations from possible harm and emotional upheaval. It is also about safeguarding the past, preserving personal honour, burying difficult times, conserving existence and minimising guilt. Leal also ties in a set of sub plots that looks carefully at connections, marriage, relationships, adultery, family, regret, lust and above all, love. Many of these themes made their mark on me, but what I was able to pull from The Deceptions was the emphasis on the delicate nature of life and the will to overcome challenges, in a time of complete chaos. In today’s pressing times, this is an essential message from the past to consider.
Enthralling, shocking, revealing and pertinent, Suzanne Leal’s The Deceptions is a staple read, that reminds us of the true cost of war. Highly recommended to all.
The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal was published on 31st March 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Deceptions, Suzanne Leal, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Deceptions is book #36 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge