By Niki Tulk
Small House Press, $14.95, 396 pages
Two parts melancholy, with a mix of fear and anger, the lives of Lara and her Opa, Tomas, intertwine in a captivating tale that leaves the reader wondering about their own family history. Shadows and Wings draws the reader in from the first page, creating a bond between these two characters that transcends time, while setting up the stage for Lara’s trip to Germany to understand her grandfather’s past. Both characters are on a journey of discovery and understanding and have to come to terms with the harsh realities of growing up and setting childhood dreams aside.
“Tomas lowered the lid. Seamlessly the red velvet disappeared, bleeding rewound. One intake of breath. Latches clicked. It was finished.”
Tulk does an amazing job of weaving personality and character growth in the smallest of sections. Tomas’s segments in the middle of the book were enthralling. His pre-war chapters will help the reader understand and emphasize with him, but it was the post-war sections, short interludes that detail the effect the war had on him, that make the book. Like snapshots, these sections give the reader a small glimpse into the emotional upheaval that Tomas undergoes. The reader will be able to feel his world-weariness and his grief from the war but also his hope that Australia will be a better place. As for Lara, she matures immensely from a small child reeling from her first introduction to Nazi Germany, to a young woman whose world is set adrift by her grandfather’s tokens. Through her investigation the reader gets to see how the stories have come full circle. Her sections show the reader that no matter what decade it is people are always struggling with their sense of their place in the world.
The effect Shadows and Wings can have on the reader is probably its greatest strength. Through its wonderful descriptions and complex characterization Shadows and Wings is a book that can make a reader reflect on their influence and their understanding of the world. This book is recommended for any reader who is curious about the generational impact one action can have and the subsequent personal growth that can sparked from it.
Reviewed by D. Ann Williams