The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman – 2016

last-time-we-spokeHow a quick but catastrophic event can set lives careering off at tangents.  For Carla Reid the traumatic events that take place on her farm on the night of her wedding anniversary – when the only glitch had been her son’s announcement he didn’t want to return from the city to help on the farm and her harsh words afterwards – lead to years of suffering.  For Ben Toroa, one of the young perpetrators of the home invasion, it leads to years behind bars.  Ben’s life did not have any expectation of future comfort, except maybe earning respect from his crew, so his life didn’t veer so much off course, but he still has a journey to make, and surprisingly Carla eventually becomes part of that journey.  The last time we spoke alternates points of view, that of Carla, of Ben, of other characters who become part of the story – and most difficult for me the voice of Beyond – that world of continuity that Ben has become separated from due to urbanisation and a history of systemic racism.  Sussman’s book is one of hope and redemption – but not saccharinely so; the journey the characters make is far from easy or smooth.  If all we need is “to belong … to be loved” there is a way through.  If we have that love and belonging and it is taken away from us the way back is hard.  If we have never had it we try and create it: gangs, drugs, trying to earn respect.  If we have never had it, we suffer from the ignorance of not knowing what it even is to be loved and cared for – especially if we are also literally ignorant through lack of education to help us understand and navigate.  According to the Acknowledgements The last time we spoke took about eight years to write – nicely echoed in the text where a journalist has had Carla and Ben’s story in his mind for eight years.  So maybe another message from this moving book is the importance of patience for those in trauma; to be patient themselves and also to realise the patience of the Beyond.



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