Written by J L Ruston
Hope is arguably the most powerful force of energy that has kept us alive so well for so long on this planet. Michelle Obama recently said,
“You may not always have a comfortable life, and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once, but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”
The Jolly Times had the luxury of meeting award winning writer and children’s author, Susanne Gervay. A pure embodiment of courage and hope who has, for the better, moulded and matured the thinking minds of her readers through close to home historical accounts that have been whisked with wild fantasy, concluding any one of her stories as un-put-downable throughout homes across the globe.
If you’re familiar with her books, (If not they are unbiasedly fantastic reads, highly recommended, you can visit her shop here), you’d know that each page is laced with an unwavering sense of justice. Whether you’re reading one of her famous children’s books, a teenager going through teenage things, or an adult wanting to get swallowed into a new world, there is a lesson and an uprising of righteousness that swells within, no matter your age. Her books confront themes of anti bullying, anti racism, anti semitism, and in her new book The Edge Of Limits, she tackles the importance of connection, courage and consent whilst simultaneously whimsical at heart.
“It is so confronting and true. I got into the mindset of my son. He was very unhappy in giving his mind to me.” Joked Susanne. “Because at the moment, so much consent is the voice of women and I agree with that. But the voice of women without males is empty.”
The Edge of limits has been labelled by some as controversial for how deep into the male adolescent turmoil the book delves.
“These are real scenarios with narratives that capture boys’ humour, challenges and the complexities of family school and personal relationships. I recognise that during male, young adult years, the brain responsible for reasoning, planning and problem-solving is developing. When you add testosterone, peer group pressure, alcohol, parental expectation, and identity crisis, it can lead to disastrous action. Sexuality is the trigger, but searching for identity is the journey. It is complex but we can engender change. Boys need to read the edge of limits to understand their critical choices. Girls need to read it so that they understand the complexity of the search for identity. I needed to write it as enough is enough.”
As in daily life, dark comedy is a great resource in getting by. Susanne’s humour bears the essence of John Cleese whilst the characters carry social justice issues for the reader to pull on.
“Look and I do tend to go hard.” We laughed “But at the same time, I have never written a book, which doesn’t end in hope. Always they go to dark places, but they come out with the strength of a hero”.
Ms Gervay explains where her passion for full head confrontation through literacy was ignited from.
“My parents were refugees from Hungary, and they went through terrible times. And one thing they did as they escaped from Hungary and were brought to Australia, eventually after a long time in a displacement camp, they came with one thing in their heart, their belief in justice and the hope for that. That is really what has motivated me since I’ve been a child. I don’t want to write unless I’m writing about getting a better life, about justice, trying to get some sort of equality.”
For her work she’s won the Lady Cutler Award for Distinguished Services to Children’s Literature in 2007, the UTS Award for Excellence, an Order of Australia Medal in 2011 and the Maurice Saxby Award for services to reading and young people as well as awards in social justice. She has books in almost every school in the country about anti bullying and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
At the beginning of 2022, Susanne was diagnosed with 2 large egg sized brain tumours that caused her to have a stroke as they grew. The aphasic side effects had little mercy. She lost the ability to walk, talk, swallow, read, write, and was reliant on a gnarly feeding tube to top her up.
Her mental resilience, on the other hand, stood robust in the face of her own mortality.
One wonderful trait to arise from trauma is the following determination to prevent or alleviate a person(s) suffering of whom you relate to circumstantially.
Susanne’s mother once ran through the collapsing streets of Budapest, dodging bombs, war crimes and deceased countrymen desperately searching for medicine for her then sick father. The adrenaline of mighty love and hope driving her confidence to dance with death, was key to her succession then, and went on to be a drive for many more journeys alike.
Susannes father, a hero that still ripples through generations. His parents were snatched and taken to Auschwitz, as he was forced into hard labour during a gruelling winter, thick with ice and snow which saw many of his fellows perish. To his benefit, he was a farmer and knew how to survive off the land. His men were slowly starving to death, so, fueled by the love and hope of survival, Susannes father gave a nod to the army tanks, stole a Russian horse, and galloped hard into the forest until the horse finally collapsed, allowing the starving men to refuel and be witness to more days ahead.
Both left her with the legacy to seek justice.
The timing of the surgery to remove Susanne’s tumours had coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which she described “absolutely broke my heart”. Ringing alarm bells from her parents past, but confined to a hospital bed, a selfless final to-do before the unknown was not to do anything nostalgic for herself, but to set up a Go Fund Me account in aid of the people of Ukraine.
“I asked for no flowers or cards because I wanted something more important. I wrote ‘Heroes of the underground’ to honour my parents who survived the war and holocaust, left everything behind to build their lives here. I wrote to inspire young people to be heroes, fight evil, learn from the past, so we do not repeat the past.”
The following first 5 weeks of ‘good riddance to the brian eggs’ saw a lot of welcomed snuggles from a sweet puppy named Ralph and more than $15,000 generous donations to the Ukraine fund.
“It gave me the spirit to go on!” She proudly explained.
It’s very unique for someone to love the wellbeing of others so much that they become empowered by it. To face the challenge of relearning how to walk, talk, eat, drink, swallow, orientate and do things for yourself all over again, from scratch…. To not get beaten down by that and to actually jump up louder from it in concern of others, is a truly special attribute of which her parents would be dearly proud of.
Whilst neuroplastic reconstruction work is taxing, frustrating beyond comprehensible words Susanne is showing the world that she is here to do things her way. Moving the planet with no nonsense involved.