Tomorrow I’ll be heading off to London for a panel meeting as shadow judge for The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award where we will be discussing the four shortlisted books and choosing our winner. Consequently, today I have my final review and this time it’s Testament by Kim Sherwood. (In case you were wondering, I’ve reviewed the books in alphabetical order by title, not by any other preference!)
Published by Quercus imprint Riverrun, Testament is available for purchase through the links here.
Of everyone in her complicated family, Eva was closest to her grandfather: a charismatic painter – and a keeper of secrets. So when he dies, she’s hit by a greater loss – of the questions he never answered, and the past he never shared.
It’s then she finds the letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have uncovered the testimony he gave after his forced labour service in Hungary, which took him to the death camps and then to England as a refugee. This is how he survived.
But there is a deeper story that Eva will unravel – of how her grandfather learnt to live afterwards. As she confronts the lies that have haunted her family, their identity shifts and her own takes shape. The testament is in her hands.
Kim Sherwood’s extraordinary first novel is a powerful statement of intent. Beautifully written, moving and hopeful, it crosses the tidemark where the third generation meets the first, finding a new language to express love, legacy and our place within history.
My Review of Testament
Eva’s attempts to record her grandfather’s life lead her to more discoveries than she might have imagined.
Testament is one of those books that is terribly difficult to review because it transcends the superlatives a reader might wish to apply to it. I found Kim Sherwood’s writing both beautiful and harrowing, deeply sad, yet ultimately uplifting, with an intensity that meant I had to force myself to breathe at times. It actually took me quite a while to read Testament as I had to take breaks to recover from what I’d just read.
The plot is skilfully constructed so that the events of the past reverberate and impact on the present completely convincingly. I loved the brilliant exploration of identity, of how we are shaped by the past, but equally, how we can construct our own identity, past and truths, even at the moment of being our most duplicitous. Silk is both nothing he claims to be and yet everything he claims to be, making him a complex, fascinating and compelling character. I felt I understood him completely and he became so real to me I wished I had known him personally too. The concepts of family, nationality and belonging swirl and eddy through the writing like the waters of the Danube itself, drawing me in to the narrative completely. I’m not usually a lover of dual time frames but thoroughly enjoyed them in Testament as the truth behind Silk’s life and Eva’s discovery of that truth merge together.
The quality of research that Kim Sherwood has put in to Testament is exemplary and I feel I have learnt a great deal more about the era; especially what happened to Jewish people post war. Reading Testament has reinforced what I thought I knew and shown me the ignorant acceptance of past times that I may have previously displayed so that I can honestly claim that this narrative has altered my perspectives. I found a real resonance in the exploration of grief and love too.
I loved the quality of the writing. Kim Sherwood’s description of place is so evocatively depicted through her use of the senses that it is possible to experience her settings almost first hand. Similarly, the immediacy of the action she describes is so vivid that events happening to Józef and László seem like films rather than text.
Kin Sherwood’s Testament is a powerful, absorbing and incredibly moving novel that has had a visceral effect on me, making me feel the emotional pain, the fear and the joy of the characters quite physically. I recommend it unreservedly. It’s quite wonderful.
About Kim Sherwood
Kim Sherwood was born in Camden in 1989 and lives in Bath. She studied Creative Writing at UEA and is now Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England. Her pieces have appeared in Mslexia, Lighthouse, and Going Down Swinging.
Kim began researching and writing Testament, her first novel, after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away and her grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. It won the 2016 Bath Novel Award, was longlisted for the 2019 Desmond Elliot Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.
For more information, follow Kim on Twitter @kimtsherwood.