Today we welcome bestselling author Suzanne Leal to discuss her new release The Deceptions (Allen&Unwin), a searing, compassionate tale of love and duplicity-and family secrets better left buried – fiction inspired by a true story of wartime betrayal.
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Q&A with Suzanne Leal on The Deceptions
How are you feeling about releasing a book in this current climate?
This is a very strange and worrying time for the world. I was so looking forward to all the festivals and events I was to be part of and was sad when they had to be cancelled. On the upside, I’ve started to immerse myself in the online community and have really begun to enjoy this. My virtual launch was on Facebook at 8pm on Thursday 2 April. I’m also pleased that The Deceptions is available not only in print but also as an eBook and an audiobook, which means that even in lockdown, people will have access to it. And if ever this was a time for more reading, this is it!
What is The Deceptions about?
In 1943, a young woman is taken to a Jewish ghetto outside Prague where one of the guards – a Czech gendarme – is quickly drawn to her. Believing he will offer her protection, she reluctantly accepts his advances only to find herself alone and abandoned in Auschwitz. Decades later, the gendarme carries his regrets to Sydney where he and his family try to make a new life for themselves. But theirs is a life built on lies and deception, and one that may completely unravel.
What was the inspiration behind the book?
My novel, The Deceptions, was inspired by a story told to me by my former landlords, Fred and Eva Perger, who were Czech and Jewish and who had both survived the Holocaust. As teenagers, Fred and Eva had been sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto, a Jewish internment camp outside Prague. Whilst there, they got to know one of the guards, a Czech gendarme, who was later arrested for having an illicit relationship with one of the detainees, a young Jewish woman. After the war, the guard returned home but the fate of the young woman remained unknown. Over the years, I found myself wondering what had happened to her. Because I didn’t have enough information to research her actual life – I didn’t even know her name – I re-imagined her instead.
Why do you write?
I write because I feel incomplete when I don’t. I write to make sense of the world and its people. I’m interested in how people cope during difficult times, both on a global scale – particularly during wartime or recession – and on a personal level, in the wake of divorce or job loss or bereavement. I am particularly fascinated by the human capacity for kindness and hope and resilience even during the most tumultuous of times. This is a theme I explore both in The Deceptions and in my earlier novels, The Teacher’s Secret and Border Street.
Did you do a lot of research for your book?
To be honest, at first I was hesitant to write The Deceptions because I knew how much research would be required to get the book right. But the story itself just wouldn’t leave me and I soon realised I’d need to write it out before I’d have the headspace to move onto a new project. So I took a deep breath and got started. I read all I could about the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt including memoirs of people who had been detained there. I kept by my side H G Adler’s encyclopaedic work Theresienstadt. There is little written about Czech gendarmes and I searched for everything I could find, even making contact with the world expert on the European gendarmerie, Professor Clive Emsley. For much of the detail in the book I am grateful to my former landlords, Fred and Eva Perger, who, many years ago, shared their Holocaust experiences with me.
What books have inspired you?
- A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert. Set in the Ukraine in 1941, Seiffert’s writing is sparse and clear and powerful.
- Lullaby by Leila Slimani. A disturbing story of a French nanny, the simplicity of Slimani’s writing makes the story so palpable I found myself flinching.
- The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. The story of a Swiss boy born in the middle of the Second World War, Tremain’s descriptions of her characters are so careful and so detailed, I felt I knew them absolutely.
- The Invisible Women’s Society by Nikki Gemmell. This was written as an audiobook and it is funny and clever and such a tonic for these difficult times.
What haven’t you done yet that you wish you could?
I haven’t yet travelled to Turkey and Jordan and Botswana and would really love to go there one day.
Complete this sentence: The Deceptions is for fans of…
The Deceptions is for fans of novels that are engaging, challenging and ultimately uplifting. It’s for fans of both historical and contemporary fiction who enjoy reading about the revelation of long-held family secrets.
The Deceptions Synopsis
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.
(Allen & Unwin, April 2020)
‘At what cost can a survivor of hell rebuild a seemingly normal life? The Deceptions is a gripping and tragic story for our times.’ – Leah Kaminsky, author of The Hollow Bones
‘Impossible to put down. Leal is a master storyteller. Mesmerising, heartbreaking, honest – The Deceptions is ferociously good.’ – Nikki Gemmell, author of After
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About the Author, Suzanne Leal
Suzanne Leal is the bestselling author of The Teacher’s Secret and Border Street. A regular interviewer and presenter at literary events and festivals, she was the senior judge for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards from 2017 to 2019. Suzanne is also a lawyer experienced in child protection, criminal law and refugee law. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children.Updated