Collis’ (The Herald, 2013, etc.) affecting saga follows an unlikely friendship between a dying old man and a young addict.
Ivan Skavinski, violin maker and Holocaust survivor, leads a quiet but lonely life in a town outside Sydney, Australia. Diagnosed with cancer, he travels to Sydney for chemotherapy, encountering a teenage girl vomiting in an alley. He offers to take her home to recover, and although she suspects she will have to repay him in the way all men in her short life have demanded, Kelly is unwell enough to agree. Ivan surprises Kelly by providing her food, board, and clothing without demanding anything in return. As their friendship grows, and both Kelly’s pregnancy and heroin addiction are revealed, Ivan makes the fateful decision to discontinue his chemotherapy so he can monitor Kelly’s sobriety. The birth of Natalia makes the pair an unusual family, and Kelly soon finds herself heir to Ivan’s modest fortune. Years pass, and Kelly marries, becomes a doctor, and rediscovers her troubled sister. Despite numerous challenges, Kelly remains sober and converts Ivan’s home into a treatment center. Alternately reading like a Harlequin romance, a family saga, and the kind of “soapie” Kelly’s sister Maddie stars in, Collis’ novel draws the reader in, as the indomitable Kelly seems to be on the brink of great success, then backslides and rebounds again. Ivan, the most sympathetic character, dies early in the book, but as its title portends, his legacy lingers as Kelly endeavors to live up to the example he provided. Some plot elements strain credulity: a marriage proposal before the man and woman have kissed, much less dated; Kelly’s unawareness that her stepdaughter is not her husband’s biological daughter; and Maddie’s marriage to a European prince. Secondary characters, such as Dr. Geoffrey Cleveland, Helen Bridges, Maddie, and Bryson, are as compelling as Kelly, while Ivan’s back story, if explored further, would probably be the most fascinating of all.
Despite minor shortcomings, an engrossing story with characters worth caring about.