Review by Ian Keogh
An OMD song has lyrics wistfully calling the bondage of fate a beautiful burden, and that applies to what Line Hoven achieves in her imagination’s retelling of pivotal moments from her family’s history. The Hoven family name is German, but she also has American ancestors, and in four short chapters she shows how these strands came to be combined.
She begins with her grandfather Erich Hoven growing up in Nazi Germany interested in radios and loving the music of Mendelssohn. Then immediately showing him as a member of the Hitler Youth is intended to shock, but every German child of his era was expected to participate, so the hope would be it’s not judgemental with the opportunity of hindsight. From there we move to late 1930s USA during winter where professional ice hockey player Harold Tovey – you can look his record up online – meets novice skater Catherine. In the 1950s Reinhard Hoven obsesses over science fiction stories to the detriment of his education, and several years later we see Charlotte Tovey flying to the then West German capital of Bonn.
Hoven separates the chapters with illustrations of memorabilia of significance to the family history such as two tickets to the ice skating rink, or the 1958 receipt noting the purchase and delivery of a washing machine, and ends each chapter with her illustrations of family photographs. The art is distinctive for having been created on scratchboard rather than drawn in pen and ink, and while that results in static panels, these feed into the cultivated sense of time and place infusing the entire narrative. It’s also extremely effective in mimicking photographs during emotional moments for which no pictures exist.
Love Looks Away could be seen as a quick and superficial read of substance to Hoven while avoiding wider appeal, but that’s shortsighted. It’s a work of charm and subtlety where Hoven trusts readers to pick up what’s unsaid, while she concentrates on perpetuating a calmness requiring the recollections to include plenty of scene-setting and mood-conveying wordless panels. One example of the nuance is that were Reinhard not held back a year at school, a matter of shame at the time, he’d not have been in the same college class as the visiting Charlotte Tovey, studying German literature. There follows a finely observed sequence explicitly designed to be awkward, with the two elder generations converging.
The title is clever and sweet, acknowledging that people in love can overcome substantial differences in outlook, and Love Looks Away is a beautifully constructed story compacted to deliver only the essential moments, but creating the space to give them the appropriate weight.