Two White Queens and The One-Eyed Jack, By Heidi von Palleske

How can you not pick up a book with the title Two White Queens and The One-eyed Jack? Such a title promises an out-of-the-ordinary experience, and author Heidi Von Palleske delivers, starting with the unusual cast of characters and a penchant for eye trauma.

A young boy’s act unintentionally results in another boy losing an eye. A third boy has been blind in one eye since birth and doesn’t know it. Two albino twin sisters with a troubled family history have reduced vision as part of their albinism. The lives of these characters, their families and others intertwine during the story. Family tragedy, abuse, betrayal and the many faces of guilt form a backdrop to the story. Characters search for love and acceptance. Longing transforms to belonging. Guilt encounters change, forgiveness and yes, sometimes retribution. The past comes back to haunt and fulfill.

Sight in its physical and metaphorical sense features prominently in the narrative. A Berlin ocularist makes glass eyes, perfect eyes that will never see, to replace missing ones. I found him to be the most human and interesting of the characters. Each year he makes replacement eyes for himself in case he loses his sight. These eyes reflect changes as he ages: an extra vein, a cloudiness, a tinge of yellow. He wants the orbs to reflect what is inside the person’s soul. He says to the boy who lost his eye:

“… there are two types of seeing … the outward-looking and inward-looking…. I will make you the best eye possible, and you will have to start doing the seeing. Inward-seeing. And that, my new friend, is called insight.”

Palleske uses juxtaposition effectively. While it is the twins’ vision that is impaired, people with fully functioning eyesight see only the girls’ whiteness. A woman who fled Germany and the holocaust offers the twins the security they long for. One of the one-eyed boys becomes a photographer where monocular vision is an asset. It takes the loss of her son’s sight for a woman to see the failure in her own marriage. A man who has been blind to what has been happening in his family provides a resolution.

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I loved the quirkiness of the characters. This is a dense book with a large field of characters and multiple storylines that required Palleske’s deft hand to knit it together. Two White Queens and The One-Eyed Jack is published by Dundurn.

Heidi von Palleske is a writer, actor, and activist. She has written poetry, articles, and fiction, and won the H.R. Percy Novel Prize for They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore. Heidi spends time on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts but calls Toronto home.

  • PUBLISHER: Dundurn; 2021
  • ISBN: 9781459746787
  • Pages: 288

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