Tuesday 15 March 2022

I’ll Keep You Close

I’ll Keep You Close by Jeska Verstegen (Allen & Unwin) Paperback RRP $16.99 ISBN 978 1 76 0 526917

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Jeska Verstegen is an author and illustrator living in Amsterdam, who is a descendant of Emanuel Querido, a Jewish-Dutch publisher, who was captured and killed by the Nazis in World War ll. I’ll Keep You Close is her debut novel, based on the true story of her family history.

Jeska, comes to understand why her mother is fearful and hides away from the world. Her mother hates to be noticed, she almost seems like a shadow. She carries a handbag filled with all sorts of things for any emergency. Frustrated by her mother’s behaviour Jeska embarks on her own journey to find out the secrets her mother keeps. She becomes a detective and pieces the snippets of information together. A word, an old photo album, a story, a book. Her overprotective mother has pain triggers from her past as a Holocaust survivor. Jeska, has no idea she has Jewish heritage and the reveals inside the book slowly bring out not only Jeska’s realisations but the readers too. A key character is Jeska’s grandmother who is nearing the end stage of life. She lives more in the past than the present. Terror is hidden in the secrets you don’t know, then bad things surely can’t happen again.

Jeska Verstegen’s words draw the reader into the story immediately. Her opening sentences speak powerfully. A school is a kind of monster with a belly full of children. In the morning it gobbles children up, and in the afternoon, it spits them all out again. Me included. This story is Verstegen’s, the emotion inside her words makes her voice engrossing. The bubbling emotions inside her are explored on every page. Do you sometimes feel ashamed of yourself? I ask Moz. The cat ignores me. Her dialogue moves the story along beautifully and imparts information and character. ‘You can tell from my last name: Cohen,’ he says. I don’t follow. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Jewish. But you don’t have a Jewish last name,’ he says. This is a story is filled with emotion, history, and intergenerational trauma.

I’ll Keep You Close, is a middle grade novel that’s a compelling read for children 8 -12 years. For those who want to understand worlds and have empathy and understanding for others, stories like this are needed. I can see this book being used in schools as a teaching resource not only for its history element but the fact that it addresses inherited intergenerational trauma with a child’s-eye view.

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