Table of Contents
- A List of Important Quote
- Notes Summary
- Sample Essay 1
- Sample Essay 2
- Sample Essay 3
- Sample Essay 4
- Sample Essay 5
A List of Important Quote
Chapter 1: The Stone of Madness
Pg 1. “ …he was an assassin. He was warm-hearted, friendly, engaging…”
From the onset of the novel, Szubanski presents two opposing ideas of her father. On one hand he is known to be an assassin, on the other he is depicted as a kind-hearted man. This juxtaposition provides a framework for the rest of the novel where the writer struggles to come to terms (cope/reconciliate/deal with) the conflicting nature of her Father’s past.
Pg 1 “ Loved tennis, ballet, conversation… Bombay bloomers..”
This passage tends to normalise her father, his hobbies are seemingly the same as any other person. By commencing the novel with her father’s hobbies, Szubanski positions the readers to view her father as a regular person. Yet, this idea is starkly contrasted once she illustrates how he can murder in “cold blood.”
Pg 2 “Stone of Madness.. I swear sometimes I can feel that stone in my head. A palpable presence.. plum pip”
The stone is a symbol of the heavy burden that was placed upon the Szubanski. By describing it as “palpable” like a “plum pip”, she vividly depicts it her fathers legacy as a tangible product that weighs heavily upon her heart. Just like the painting, Szubanski’s attempts to extract the stone suggests the multitude of predicaments surrounding her father’s legacy.
Pg 2 “ The stone was my father’s legacy to me.. smooth, bone-coloured stone.”
The Bone coloured stone conjures up images of death and the colours of bones in the human body. This haunting imagery reverberates through the pages and serves to strike the readers deeply.
Pg 2 “calcified guilt and shame.”
The idea that the stone has hardened/solidified can be an metaphor comparing the father’s hardened/rough exterior.
Chapter 2: Death of an Assassin
Pg 3. “All the old warriors are dying”
A seemingly fitting introduction phrase to the chapter as the writer details the story behind her father’s death.
Pg4. “My father’s body lies in a coffin draped in the red-and-white Polish flag.”
The symbolic feature illustrates the notion of patriotism that her father and the community still holds. Although the funeral took place in Australia, their ethnicity and cultural background still plays a large role in representing who her father was.
Pg.5 He was selfish, he was vain… but he was always there, and now he is gone. Torn out of her.”
As a husband he was “vain” and “selfish”, yet Szubanski poignantly conveys the sense of loss felt by the family at her father’s death.
Pg7. “ I escaped death so often I started to believe I was invincible.”
Her father’s statement brings a sense of irony as the scene is sharply contrasted with him lying on the hospital bed looking like ET. Perhaps, Szubanski wishes to demonstrate that even the most “invincible” of humans still will fall frail in the face of death.
Pg8. In his letter to his friend “You are the only person with whom I conduct polemics about subjects… (it is) a certain type of confession)
Discerning readers can comprehend Mr.Szubanki’s sense of loneliness and isolation as he has no one to share his traumatic memories with. This highlights the issue/dilemma/plight of many war survivors whereas they have no wish to relive and speak about their traumatic experiences, yet it is comforting to be able to share their inner most/vulnerable thoughts with those around them.
Pg. 12 “you must understand” – Mrs. Pieczak/father
This sentence is repeated three times throughout the chapter, perhaps, it is Szubanski’s subtle way of reminding readers to try and be empathetic and understanding towards her father’s story.
Pg12. “His jottings were incoherent. Snatches, fragments. Like a PTSD nightmare.”
A representation of her father’s traumatic memories in the war.
Pg12. “But all the old warriors are dying and their stories die with them.”
The starting sentence is repeated again at the end of her father’s death. Her father’s inability to express his full story of the times in war renders him as an “old warrior” who’s story also dies with him. However, Szubanski’s courageous attempt to re-tell the story serves to retain her father’s legacy.
Pg13. “We were tugboats in the river of history… pulling in opposite direction. He needs to forget I need to remember.”
Szubanki paints a vivid imagery of two tugboats going opposite directions. Ostensibly, her mission to uncover the history of her family’s past is at odds with her father’s wish to forget the past.
Chapter 3: My Mother’s People
Pg.15 “of the uncles Tom…of childish pranks… she told me about..”
This chapter is perceived through the lens of young Szubanski listening to the tales of her mother’s past. The structure of this chapter flips through character to character, focusing on one part of Szubanki’s mother’s childhood and jumps into adolescence then to marriage. In this way, readers are invited to get a brief overview of the mother’s background told with her own words.
Pg.16 “Luke, who always seemed to me like a minor player in a large cast of colourful characters but who in fact held the key to it all.” (Luke the grandfather)
Luke, the grandfather of Magda is placed into a central role/protagonist/leading role of the narrative. Although he is described as passive, his influence in the lives of this family is unmistakably present.
Pg.17 “of the hardships she would say, it wasn’t just us. We were not the only ones. And that wasn’t the only thing in our lives.”
Despite living through the horrendous/grim/bleak events of the Holocaust, members of Magada’s family displayed heroic human tenacity and perseverance in the midst of trials. Her mother’s empathetic and “darkened” tone highlights the suffering endured by the community and not just the individual.
Pg.17 “I am very selfish” -father
A foreshadowing of the marriage. Demonstrated further into the novel instances where her father exhibited this quality.
Pg18. “All these stories, hours, weeks months, years of talking around the kitchen table, weaving a tale, a spell
The notion that these stories were told around the “kitchen table” presents an image of domesticity. Additionally, the readers are inclined to realise that they too have been engrossed/transfixed/fixated in the mother’s ‘spell’ like stories, recalling the magical days of the past.
Chapter 4: My Father’s People
Pg.19 “I don’t even know what to call them… I never had endearments for Jadwiga and Mieczyslaw Szubanski.” (grandma and grandpa father’s side)
The start of this chapter suggests that there was a growing distance between Magda and her relationship with her grandparents on her father’s side. Little information is known about them but Magda tries to extract their characters from the remaining photographs of them.
Pg.22 “I look like Jadwiga. Everyone always says that.”
Despite never having met her grandmother, Magda’s strong resemblance to her suggests that there is a part of her is still deeply connected to the history of her father’s side.
Pg22. “I tend to blame him (Mieczyslaw) perhaps unfairly for the more challenging aspects of my father’s nature.”
Readers are expected to understand the circumstances and parental factors that may have influenced her Father’s character.
Pg23. “It was a good life. Hitler invaded on 1 September 1939.”
A jarring change of tone and atmosphere in this chapter. Szubanski’s employs juxtaposing images and ideas frequently throughout her novel to elicit shock in readers. Much like Magada’s own life, there is always an unexpected turn of events at any given moment.
Pg25. “Thousands of them…lying unburied. Rotting in the sun.”
As Szubankski outlines the horrors of the war, readers are made to comprehend the dire circumstances in that historical time period. By providing a backdrop of war and brutality, it is imminent that people will take extreme actions to survive.
Pg.25 “At the age of fifteen he formed his own ‘private army’”
This may demonstrate her father’s courage and bravery from a young age even in the midst of chaos.
Pg.26 “they shot at close range. Close enough to see, touch, smell. My father participated in twelve such aktions.”
Szubanski establishes the fact her father has a side of him that is able to kill in cold-blood. By using sensory imagery (sight, touch, smell), it illustrates a clearer picture of the reality of her father’s murderous acts.
Pg.27 “Women were used as human shields in front of tanks.”
A haunting imagery that depicts the brutality of war.
Pg.28 “I never once saw my father cry of display any emotion at all.”
This stoic description of her father reiterates the idea of a cold and serious man hardened by war.
Pg.28 “his family were wooly mammoths, caught unaware…trapped in glaciers of his unfelt feelings…But as death crept closer cracks began to form, the ice began to thaw. Unresolved and unexamined, feelings began to erupt.”
This analogy vividly depicts the notions of her father’s emotional displacement. Like glaciers, he suppresses his past traumatic memories deep down, rendering him cold and distant. Yet, as the ice ‘thaws’, and as he draws closer to his death, bursts of emotions are conjured. This imagery allows the audience to imagine the experience of witnessing first hand her father going through his emotional turmoil.
Pg.28 “Those were different times…so different they are hard to conjure.”
Again, Szubanski reminds readers that her father has lived through a time that is almost too unbearable to picture. Most readers and Szubanski herself are unlikely to relate to her father’s experience, and in turn, this creates a feeling of distance between her and her father.
Pg.29 “What is it like to be a boy at a time when your home is the war…no relief, no dream of peace or safety?”
The writer poses this rhetorical question to both the readers and perhaps herself, trying to imagine the life her father has endured. The answer is implicitly suggested that anyone who has not gone through war can begin to imagine this scenario.
Pg. 29 “What would I do? Was I like them? Was I like him?”
This line delivers a sense of confusion as the writer questions herself and her identity. Through this, readers can see that it is not merely a story but it is in itself a cathartic release for Szubanski to find her identity through the re-telling of her father’s legacy.
Chapter 5: I am Born
pg.31 “My mother was left for hours in blood-soaked sheets… unable to bear it, my father escaped to the pictures.”
This scenario may remind readers of her father’s previous comment “I am selfish.” To avoid dealing with emotions, he chooses to escape.
Pg.31 “My father’s first attempt to create new life had resulted in death. He had lost family, country-everything…”
This line can elicit/engender/arouse empathy/sympathy from readers towards her father. After losing so much in the war, it seems almost cruel for him to lose his first born. On another hand, this tragedy could also be seen as his comeuppance/his reckoning for the lives he took.
Pg.33 “(I would be) fretting over unnamed fear…I had little counting rituals… would obsessively fold and refold pieces of paper…”
This delivers insight into the writer herself. Before this point, the readers only get detailed descriptions of her family background. At this point, we can see how young Magda’s personality and characteristics are formed.
Pg.33 “It was an age of fakery decorated with AstroTurf and aluminium Christmas tress.”
Society seemingly/ostensibly attempts to cover up the tragedy of the past by using shiny plastic/fake exteriors.
Pg.36 “One day we found something strange in the attic…a gasmask left over from the war.”
A symbolic moment where Magda and her brothers find the gas mask. This serves as another reminder that although the war is over, snippets and memories of the past will ultimately manifest itself again.
Pg.37 “My mother scoffed…But years later she would have cause to remember the words of that old gypsy woman.”
Szubanski employs a foreshadowing technique alluding readers to know that a foreboding doom seems to be ahead for her father.
Pg.38 “In the morning all the messiness of life would be covered with a blanket of white neatness. That was Christmas…After Australia, those rituals gradually shrivelled in the heat.”
Another reference to hiding under the exterior. Christmas was a time in which Szubanski found happiness in her childhood despite the history of her family.
Pg.40 “when we left gran stayed behind. I am frantically searching my stupid head for a memory of saying goodbye…It’s breaking my heart.”
The writer pulls us into the moment by letting the readers know that she is writing this novel in real time. By switching her narrative voice, we are at once aware that this is a true story.
Pg.43 “dry choking heat…sucking the air out of your lungs.” -On arriving in Australia
Szubanski’s first impression of Australia was clearly negative
Pg.44 “She thought I was an idiot…Cicadas.”
This humoristic instance allows readers to discern the sense of displacement the writer felt when she first moved. The culture clash she experiences further depicts her sense of isolation in the new country.
Pg.45 “Repetition created a comforting palimpsest of familiarity and a harsh beauty revealed itself. A new life began to emerge.” -on adjusting to her new life in Australia (familiarity)
The idea presented here is perhaps repetition will bread familiarity. Once Magda was used to her environment she adapted and learned to live in it. Much like the times of war and hardship, people can get become accustomed to suffering and trauma and live in those times.
Chapter 7: Feeling Different – Magda’s isolated childhood leaves her to seek out other means to mark what it is to be normal. She finds solace in TV shows and movies. One of these nights, she watches a documentary about the Holocaust which stirs up inner turmoil within her and also towards her father.
Pg. 76 My isolation also meant I had no points of comparison; no way of knowing if what I felt was normal or weird. There were only two things that gave me a sense of perspective – The Brady Bunch and the moon.
Movies became a reference point for Magda for comparison. Throughout the novel, Szubanski frequently uses movie references as indicators or reflections of her life. Her difficulty in trying to express her emotions would be later translated to films. Through movies, Magda finds solace and understanding of what she has experienced.
Pg. 77 There was a strange intensity to my feelings for her… I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be her or… something.
The first sign that Magda senses that she might be different. At this point, she describes this feeling to be ‘unclear’ and ‘without shape’.
Pg 78 as much as I loved the moon I hated dolls. I hated frills. I was a tomboy.
Magda states that she was a tomboy since young and did not like typical girly things.
Pg. 81 To him the Holocaust was nothing out of the ordinary. It was an everyday occurrence.
Her father’s inability to show emotions when they watched a documentary of the Holocaust was a wake-up call to Magda. She realises that he has actually lived through this war and it was just an everyday occurrence to her. She links this image with the women that she met in the market and all the stories her father told are now more tangible and real to her.
Pg. 81 In that instant, I felt a great chasm open up between me and my father. His lack of feeling seemed monstrous.
Magda is unable to understand why her father had a lack of feelings. Before this point, she looked up to her father for everything and yet now she realises that he was not able to save the people.
Chapter 8 – The End of The World – Magda’s family attends a Jehovah’s Witness meeting, Magda learns more about religion. Magda meets another Polish friend called Isabella.
Pg. 83 When we moved to the southern hemisphere our religious attendance, along with many civilised customs, fell by the wayside.
Along with her cultural traditions, religious beliefs also faded as Magda’s family moved to Australia.
Pg. 84 There was some lingering part of his agnostic soul that hoped to lay down his burden at the feet of a gentle God.
This chapter entails the family’s background with religious beliefs. She indicates that her father had a part of him that willing to open up his heart to religion yet just as quickly decided against it. However, Magda acknowledges that he has a heavy burden on his soul.
Chapter 9: Magda and Magda – Magda’s Polish cousin is an actress stars in a film that Magda watches. She becomes her new role model and ignites Magda’s passion for fighting for a cause.
Pg. 88 Magda Zawadzka was the hot young ingenue of the Polish cinema.
Magda’s cousin Magda Zawadzka is everything Magda wants to be. A Polish strong and courageous women fighting for a cause.
Pg. 90 The thought that someone I already worshipped, who shared my name and my cultural heritage, whom I was related to… I decided then and there – I was Polish.
Throughout Magda’s young life, she looks up to a number of role models. Her cousin Magda Zawadzka serves as one of the key role models in which she learns to embrace her Polish background.
Pg. 92 I wanted to be a marching girl…I was a sucker for a cause, a born flag-waver.
Magda’s future character is foreshadowed here as she tells the readers that she is born to be marching girl. This is unsurprising as Szubanski’s career as an actress and comedian also circles around the topics of LGBTQ and finding the courage to accept yourself.
Chapter 10: Leon Uris – Magda reads books from the author Leon Uris. She is enraged and ashamed when she finds out that the some of the Poles had refused to help the Jewish people. She confronts her father.
Pg. 93 As I opened the pages of the books I was scared but my heart was wide open, full of sympathy for the Jewish people.
This is an emblematic moment in Magda’s memory as she learns the truth about her country’s political history.
Pg. 94 It was as if someone had plunged a red-hot iron into my sympathetic nervous system. The Poles were not just the good people We were also the bad people.
Magda’s naïve perspective on the Poles being the “good” people in the war is turned upside down as she reads the gruesome depictions in Leon Uri’s book. As a child, Magda’s idealistic perceptions of her people is now challenged as she finds out that they were also the “bad people.”
Pg. 95 You always have a choice. Some people did the right thing.
Her father’s words of wisdom rings clear here, that in troubling times, one always is given a choice to make the right decision. He doesn’t deny that there were those who did not help the Jews, instead he tries to help Magda understand that life is full of choices.
Pg. 95 The Poles shame became my shame, fused to my soul. I decided that I did not have what it took to be truly good.
This shocking realisation left a profound imprint in Magda’s young mind. She describes the shame of her country’s history to be “fused” into her own soul. This is seen as she carries the guilt as a burden throughout her journey to adulthood.
Chapter 11: Fight, Flight, Freeze – Magda describes her tennis obsessed days with her father. Her father coaches her in tennis and beats her in every game. Her father takes her out rabbit hunting and Magda is mortified.
Pg. 99 That sweet spot is a slice of heaven, a glimpse of perfection. The sweet spot became my drug. My life twined itself around tennis until it was impossible to tell which was the parasite and which was the host.
Magda’s need for belonging is focused on her passion for tennis. It becomes clear that once Magda’s passion is ignited for a certain subject, she dives head first into it. At this period of her life, tennis is her first choice. She seeks to find belonging and an identity as a tennis player alongside her father’s harsh training discipline.
Pg. 101 My mother didn’t share our tennis obsession and so she became a tennis widow.
Magda’s mother is alienated from the world of tennis that Magda and her father shares. This is also an indicator of Magda’s father’s “selfishness” as he went out every weekend all weekend to spend times at the tennis club, resulting in her mother’s deteriorating mental health and growing feelings of isolation.
Pg. 105 I adored my father. But as I grew older I hated him for this with an absolute rage. I could have killed him.
Magda’s father beats her in tennis almost ruthlessly every game. Although his intentions are to teach her a lesson, this also affects Magda’s self-esteem. As this goes on, Magda’s skills in tennis reflect her dwindling confidence as she loses game after game.
Pg. 111 My sense of myself collapsed inwards. I did not know who I was… Was I his daughter? Was I capable of being his daughter?
As Magda and her father go out to go rabbit hunting, Magda realises with sheer horror that she is about to take a life of another. Her conflicting emotions causes her to wonder is she could be like her father, to take a life in cold blood, in the end she refuses to do so and her father deals with the rabbits death swiftly.
Chapter 12: Sharpies – Magda is growing up. Her mother finds a job as a stay at home nanny. Magda goes to a new school far away from home. Magda has her first kiss with Kerry. Kerry convinces her to try and become like a Sharpie. They get into a car accident.
Pg. 120 One day mum awoke from her slumbers and announced that she was going to get her drivers licence. She was no longer content to be trapped.
Magda’s mother decides to take matters into her own hands and gain a sense of autonomy by getting her drivers license. This also deals with the idea of changing one’s identity, as Magda’s mother gains independence and freedom by driving herself “wherever she wanted to go.”
Pg. 120 My parents were self-absorbed in the same way a drowning man is. They made sure that I was all right and then tried to save themselves.
Throughout the novel, Szubanski implies to the readers that her childhood was a lonely one. Her parents were often described to be “selfish”, “absent” or “self-absorbed”. She notes that they took care of her in basic necessities, but were not always there to provide the emotional support she needed.
Pg. 124 I was paralysed, like a hysterical mute, wanting to tell her but desperate to hide my true nature… I longed to be busted out of prison of my false self…. It wasn’t just sexuality. It was everything.
Magda’s secret of her sexuality stifles her courage and voice. She constantly alludes to ideas of being a “phony” and hiding behind a “mask.” Here, she describes her inner self to be in a prison that she wishes to break out of. She is not quite ready to accept herself for who she is yet.
Pg. 136 Things were never quite the same after the accident. It seemed to signal the end of something and the beginning of something new.
After the whole charade with Kerry and trying to fit into the Sharpie gang, the car accident seems to be an end marker that terminated this period of her life. Magda went through a period of transition and trying to find belonging in different groups. From this point onwards, it was as if she had decided to move on from this moment.
Chapter 13: Fourteen– Magda becomes a social outcast in school for standing up to the “cool” girls. Her grades are slipping and Sister Agnes tries to persuade her to get back on track. She soothes herself through watching TV and reflects that she became broken that year.
Pg. 141 Away from school I fell back on my tried and trusted form of self-medication: TV.
Magda slips away to her own medication of self-soothing, watching TV. Her multiple reference to movies and films is also an indicator to her future career as an actress.
Pg. 144 That year, something in me broke… I smashed like a dropped vase. And the numbness came.
Magda acknowledges that that year she felt numb and unable to express any emotion. Her life was in disarray as things were taking a turn for the worst both in her family life and in her social life.
Pg. 144 We are social animals, and nothing terrifies us like the threat of exclusion. Being cast out from the herd means death.
Magda states that humans are fearful of being alone. Her strong need for belonging drives her to seek out groups that she can belong to and becomes the main motivator in which she changes herself in appearances to fit in.
Pg. 144 And I was now in no doubt about the nature of my secret sexual feelings.
Magda states that she knows for certain that she was a lesbian at this point of time. She is both mature enough and had reflected on her own behaviours and thoughts to know this about her sexual identity.
Chapter 14: Becoming A Fat Lesbian – Magda contemplates suicide to escape her sexuality. But she meets Helen and they find acceptance and solace in each other. Magda’s weight continues to grow despite her trying to stop. Magda’s grades are slipping and she decides to quit tennis.
Pg. 145 There is a word. A name. A label… It’s an evil word.
Magda is afraid to admit her sexuality to herself. She claims that it is an evil word and she is too afraid to face up to it.
Pg. 147 It wasn’t that I lied – I became a lie.
She leads a double life in which she became the lie that she so wanted to suppress and hide.
Pg. 147 Helen helped… She seemed to have more hours in the day than the rest of us. I was the Watson to her Holmes.
Meeting her friend Helen proved to help Magda as they both start to find acceptance and belonging as friends. Magda’s friendship with Helen helped her to become stronger and dive further into her passions for acting.
Pg. 148 Year nine was when the Great Hunger started. I had begun to balloon.
Magda starts to gain weight uncontrollably and this lack of control frustrates her.
Pg. 149 “I just thought wow! What an incredibly strong character.”
Her friends are the first to notice the resilient in Magda’s character as she cannot see for herself.
Chapter 15: Gruber – Magda’s father retells the tale of his capture and his time in the infamous Lamsdorf Death March. Gruber was a leader of a German patrol who led multiple prisoners to walk in order to bide their time before they returned home.
Pg. 156 What? The Polish POWs carried the rifles of the Germans! Why?
We felt sorry for them. Poor old bastards.
This surprising anecdote from her Father indicates the humane side of the German soldiers. Up until now, much like Magda’s naïve perspective, may also have placed soldiers into the “good” side and the “bad” side. Szubanski attempts to rid these stereotypes as she places the German soldiers in a position of empathy.
Pg. 157 I felt very proud of my father for that. Still do.
Moments of resilience and courage shines through from Magda’s father as he stays behind to protect a group of vulnerable individuals. Salad Days
Pg. 158 “Ralph carried all our pubescent theatrical hopes on his wide and sloping shoulders.”
The beginning of the chapter begins with the musical in which Magda waits in baited anticipation. She decides that if the musical is good she will audition for the next one. Here is an indicator of change in her life. Although this may just be a school musical to the readers, Magda points out the importance of this show, hence how her “hopes” are placed on Ralph’s shoulders.
Pg 159 “Ralph was smokin!… I glimpsed the transformative power of art to take the drab grind of life and turn it into a thing of pizzaz!”
A defining moment which surprises Magda. She realises that art has the power of transformation. This play ignites her interest in the arts and drives her further to seek out her passion.
Pg 159 “all those movies…within reach. I thought I could touch the moon.. I now felt I could reach out and feel the flickering insubstantial world that lay beyond the silver screen.”
This quote reminds readers of the past experiences that Magda has. The readers know that Magda was always a curious and ambitious kid who day dreams about achieving great things. Yet, so far her life has been seemingly normal as she goes to school. The fact that the play can ignite those feelings of passion and ambition in her again demonstrates that she has found something worth holding on to pursue.
Pg.159 “I had cheered up …but the depression lingered like a London fog.”
A grim/bleak description that reminds readers that Magda is still depressed. It hangs around like a fog since it doesn’t go away and impacts every aspect of her life.
Pg160 “Class clown status is a form of diplomatic immunity. At long last I was safe.”
Magda uses her status as a mask to hide behind since she doesn’t want her fellow peers to know the truth about her. She talks about being “safe” in the high school “political world” as she acknowledges how being lesbian would affect her status and reputation.
Pg 161 “(the nuns) were capable, efficient, and intelligent.”
Magda starts to introduce an array of colourful characters into the story. The nuns in particular played a huge role in Magda’s education and upbringing, she makes it a point to emphasise that they were capable and strong woman.
Pg 161. “She once drank pus from a cancerous sore.. example of ambitious selflessness”
A moment where she attempts to shock the readers, but she uses this vivid and gruesome imagery to illustrate the extreme nature of the teacher.
Pg 162 “Only praise from my father felt real and true and that was of course, withheld.”
Magda’s need for acceptance and belonging is once again highlighted. She acknowledges that she wants to be praised but only by her father. Here, the influence of her father’s parenting style affects Magda’s confidence and self-esteem.
Pg. 163 Miss Valentine, lived with her cats… Madame Grinyer (French teacher)..a slinky-hipped physics teacher.
A descriptive and almost comical list of teachers.
Pg 162 “Pointless. That the love I felt was of the variety that dare not speak its name.”
A time of confusion and anguish for Magda as she frequently drops hints to the readers of her struggles amidst her school days and her everyday life.
Pg. 162 “Then Hurricane Warwick arrived.”
Warwick is teacher that serves as another symbol of change in Magda’s life. She describes him in minute detail, and his eccentricity/individuality sets him apart from the other teachers. At this point, readers are compelled to see that Magda’s interest is being shaped by the teachers around her. Her passion for literature and writing stems from this teacher.
Pg 162. “It is safe to say without Warwick I would not be writing this book.”
Again, she makes reference to her writing inspirations and Warwick would be the cause.
Pg. 164 “Then we caught a train into the city to join one of the big marches against uranium mining…It was the sense of agency. Of coming together to change things.”
This is the first time the author experiences what it is like to take part in a political movement. Yet, she understands that it is not just the act of going to a big march that she enjoys, but the sense of power and ability to connect with others for a shared vision/aim.
Pg. 164 “I still long to be like .. discrete individual but also selfless, swirling and tumbling in perfect synchronisation with hundreds of thousands of others.”
Magda’s inner need for acceptance and belonging is showcased here. Since she knows she is different from other people, she has a even greater wish to belong and be like the “discrete” individuals and to blend into the crowd.
Pg. 165 “So I slipped the chains and escaped…He didn’t want me to be like him. But I was.”
Another reminder to the reader that although Magda is in school, the influence of her father follows her wherever she goes. The habit of escaping seems to have rubbed off on her in a way that she considers herself similar to her father.
Pg.166 “Warwick announced the new school musical – Salad Days”
The title of the chapter, Salad Days is a definitive marker of Magda’s transformative years in school. This chapter outlines the different influential people in her life (teachers) that shaped and guided her interests. Readers can discern that this chapter is a combination of different characters all distinctly different yet who all played a role in assisting Magda to be true to her self, both in her sexual identity and also her passions in life.
pg.168 “Another strange palimpsest of images and realities.”
Her father’s memory is blended into the musical as past images of his mother and his family is once again presented before him in the form of his daughter.
Pg. 168 “This was the birth of my creative self.”
After the play, Magda seems to have a new-found purpose. The fact that this is one of the few times she receives praise from her Father and the acknowledgement of being “funny” from her mother, makes acting a pathway for Magda to feel accepted. This chapter is full of new stepping stones, and acting was the door to her “creative self”.
Pg. 169 “imprisoned and forced to wear an iron mask for years. I knew how he felt.”
This metaphor underscores the manner of which Magda has been hiding her identity for the past few years. She utilises this imagery to enhance the internal struggle.
Pg. 170 “I think I might be a lesbian.”
This marks an important part of the book as Magda finally works up the courage to tell someone how she has been feeling. The internal struggle and inner anguish she suffers before this renders her distant from her true self. Yet, as she decides to acknowledge this to a friend, it signifies the beginning of her acceptance of her sexuality.
Pg. 171 “Something has come up, so terribly sorry….”
Magda’s anticipation to become an actress is quickly diminished as her long-awaited meeting with Warwick gets cancelled. The cold and matter-of-fact tone of which this part is written suggests a feeling of utter disappointment. As she “scrunches” the note into the “bottom of the bag”, it portrays to the audience that her dreams of becoming an actress is similarly cast aside. This idea is emphasised with the final phrase, “I never heard from Warwick again.”
The Cherry on the Christmas Pudding
Pg. 172 “It feels like the embodiment of my life – gloomy rudiments overarched with vaulting optimism.”
Magda’s first description of Melbourne University foreshadows the upcoming bleak experience that she has in University. The transit from high school to university proves to be a tough one as she finds herself isolated and alone.
Pg. 173 “Their world was alien to me.”
The descriptions of loneliness and feelings of isolation are scattered throughout the pages. Magda continues to contemplate “suicide” and she describes herself to be “slipping into the void.” A dark image for readers to comprehend her hopelessness and depression.
Pg. 175 “A real live lesbian”
Magda discoveries in University leads her to join the feminist club. In there she sees for the first time in her life a lesbian that is bold and proud of it. The girls ability to “exude a kind of quiet power” makes an impression on Magda.
Pg. 177 “Magda and her absence of feeling.”
The indication here is that Magda has suppressed so much of her past feelings that she has an inability to really tell people how she feels. Her feelings were “unregulated” and everything inside her has been bottled up.
Pg. 178 “Second wave feminism was becoming my religion.”
Magda’s involvement in feminism is also a clear sign that her identity is deeply rooted in this. Yet even though her political involvement was strong, she admits not to have felt anything by it. It was just a “vast expanse of nothingness.”
Pg. 179 “In the midst of this confusion, I had my first sexual experience with a man.”
Magda’s first experience was just a short description and nothing that was described in detailed. The word here was ‘detached’. Hence, this confirms her idea that she is a lesbian.
Pg. 179 “Meanwhile, I moved into my first student house.”
Another transitory period for Magda as she moves from place to place and attempts to find her people.
Pg 180 “By the end of the first year I had spent so much time finding myself I had not opened a single book.”
Her attempt to fit in and belong has eventually caused her grades to slip. Yet, as we see later on, she knows in her heart that finding her clan is much more important than maintaining good grades.
Pg. 181“I’ve decided to drop out.”
Her decision to drop out shocked her family and disappointed her father. He tells her to apply herself and resists the idea of quitting. Yet, the readers also understand from her perspective that she has a secret that she is holding on to that is affecting her mental health.
Pg. 181 “I had at last connect with my tribe. This was more important than getting H2A for fine art.”
Magda prioritizes finding friends and a community to belong to over achieving good grades.
Pg. 181 “The father had dropped dead of a heart attack.”
The parents feeble attempt to guilt Magda into staying in university. However, her stubborn and firm personality made her put her foot down and claim that she has already done it.
Pg. 182 “Our little diner became the café of choice for this raggle-taggle bunch of intellectuals and artists.”
Finally, a glimpse of Magda’s life in which she has found the group of people she feels like she belongs to. The café almost seems like a haven/safe place for her to escape to and talk to those she feels most comfortable with.
Pg. 183 “I suppose I was wondering if you were going to the cherry on my Christmas pudding.”
Magda’s first encounter with another lesbian who tries to hit on her. This impression she says “was probably a mistake.” As she refuses to go out with the other girl.
Migration/Culture — Link to belonging, identity and family’s past: the cultural gap between father and child is reversed. It is Peter who seeks to assimilate into the Australian culture and escape from his Polish roots, whereas Magda is the one that tries desperately to understand her father’s past.
“We knew nothing of local lore or wisdom or parochial efficiencies. We had no connections.” (p47)
After immigration, they realize that although they “spoke the language”, their “knowledge of custom and practice, was British or European”. In the foreign country, they “knew nothing of local lore or wisdom or parochial efficiencies” and have “no connections” with people around them. This reveals that simply overcoming the language barrier is not enough for providing Magda’s family with a profound understanding of the “local lore”, resulting in the lack of inclusion.
Adjusting to life in Australia, Magda feels not connected to the environment and a sense of desolation due to the cultural difference. Even she says that ‘everything was jarringly and excitingly new’.
“The cruel irony was that here he was, on Aboriginal land – in a sense, an Indian dispossessing another Indian.” (p50)
By implying Szubanski’s as the Indian live in the Aboriginal land, Szubanski highlights that they are minority of the society. It causes many difficulties for them to seek a sense of belonging since they are the foreigner in this new land.
“like most migrants, there was one thing he put all his faith in – education.” (p54) (parental expectation)
“But as we were not ten-pound Poms I hadn’t lived with them in the migrant hostels and so we had little in common.” (p66)
While just moving to Croydon, a city with more ‘whitebread than a load of Sunicrust’. Magda has to learn how to ‘fit in’. She was ‘one of the few European kids in [her] entire school’, ‘the only one without an Anglo-sounding first name’. Szubanski uses descriptive language to convey they are still different to these ‘ten-pound Poms’ and appeal to a sense of foreignness. Therefore, it highlights that as the migrant, who are struggling to assimilating to a new society with the influence of their inherent identity.
“the Aussie accent felt like a second language to me, as if I was wearing the skin of another animal.” (p66)
As a new migrant, Magda has no affinity with these people. English is her language, but
despite her efforts even ‘the Aussie accent felt like a second language … as if I was wearing the skin of another animal.’ The use of animal imagery is employed by Szubanski to reinforce her feelings of foreignness/difference. The change of both environment and culture makes Magda not only confused, but also a sense of uneasy. (Finding acceptance is of the central importance to Magda when she moves to Australia. Notably/ Significantly/ Importantly, Szubanski illustrates the significance of language. She changes her accent in order to try and fit in although she likens it to be “distasteful and foreign”. Furthermore, her struggles to “pronounce her name” magnifies her feelings of an outsider. )
Croydon: “desolate, violent outpost”; “suburban wasteland”
Szubanski uses the word ‘desolate’ and ‘violent outpost’ to describe Melbourne suburb. This appeals to her disconnection to the new land and a sense of inadaptation.
“while I was racing backwards towards my Polishness, my father was rushing in the other direction, assimilating at a rate of knots.” (p.68)
Contrast to Magda who have many challenges to fit into the new society, Zbigniew quickly integrates to Australia. In an attempt to cope with his dark past, he assimilates into Australian society ‘at a rate of knots’. This reflects that for an individual, the way to get away from the traumatic past is to embrace new things.
(Zbigniew tires to run away from his home culture while Magda wishes to understand and accept it.)
“All of the disparate, confusing parts of myself formed into a meaningful whole” p.167
“white Christmas” & “blast furnace”
“She thought I was an idiot. I dutifully delivered her reply to my parents in the same nasal drawl it had been conveyed to me. ‘Cicadas.’
“I felt apprehensive. As we drove along the highway the gumtrees that populated the un-kerbed median strip did not look like the mighty elms and oaks of England. They looked like beggars, their bark hanging from their limbs like tattered rags.”
Contrast of the landscape/nature/environment further highlights Magda’s identity as an ‘outsider’. The trees ‘looked nothing like the mighty elms and oaks of England. They looked like beggars’. This aims to highlight the difference she felt from England and Australia. Magda feels much more comfortable and at home in England, however, she feels like a foreigner when she first moves to Australia.
Trauma, family heritage — could also link to belonging and identity
The memoir is based on the lingering trauma of the war and how this casts a shadow over the life of Magda. Zbigniew’s miserable past has a significant impact on the Szubanski family.
Making Magda scared of admitting who they are; spend a long time trying to work out her true identity;
“Stone of madness” — could link to heritage, family relationship, identity, coming of age
In the beginning of the memoir, Szubanski is established to exist in the shadow of her father’s past, “I grew up in the shadow of that reckoning.” She introduces the motif of the Stone of Madness, something she can see in her father and feel in herself. Szubanski utilises a metaphor to compare the burden that her father has left her to be like a ‘stone of madness’ that is ‘palpable…like a plum pip.’ Just like the ‘stone’ which implies that there a heaviness that weighs upon Magda, Szubanski uses this instance to suggest that since young, Magda’s struggle to understand her father causes her inner turmoil and ‘madness’.
The stone(also is a symbol) becomes a metaphorical representation of Szubanski’s father’s past, “a stone made of calcified guilt and shame”, something she can both see within him “somewhere in the depths”, and something she can feel in herself. In the final chapter of the memoir, Szubanski realizes that her father’s stone of madness was his need to force his children to be tough “so he [wouldn’t] have to kill [them]”. Like her father, Szubanski too has her own stone of madness, the fear that her father might have collaborated with the Nazis, and through the process of writing her memoir, she is slowly excises this from her brain, ultimately setting her free.
WW2, ‘assassin’: For Peter: infusing in Australia, he wanted to be an Australian to remove himself from his past; The enormous past experience of being a ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ assassin compels him to feel the ‘ survivor guilty’ at present of ‘being a little god with a gun, and the power over life and death.’ In addition, the double burden places on him of ‘first the trauma, and then the inability of language to describe it.’ His past not only impacted on his present, but also on Magda as well, as Magda says that ‘[she] grew up in the shadow of that reckoning.’
Early in life, Zbigniew covered everything to Magda. Magda doesn’t know the full extent of her father’s involvement until she goes back to Poland and spends time with her cousin. She finds out more when she interviews her father. (interviewing) She learns a lot about the Jews suffering at the hands of the Polish people through a book ‘Leon Uris’, therefore she feels ashamed because she is ‘half-Polish with a Polish name’. This highlights the strong relationship between an individual and his family heritage.
“What do you want to learn Polish for? It’s a useless language.”—P67
” He put it in a room marked ‘ the past’ and then shut the door on it all.”—P288
” He pored over the map, remembering names and places with quite shocking accuracy.”—P291
Zbigniew never forget his traumatic past even though he extremely want.
” I’m not interested in the past. I’m only interested in tomorrow, and the next day.”—P296
Zbigniew’s experience in the war shape many of his opinions and attitudes, as well as his approach to parenting.
His past meant that he remained cold and unfeeling towards sufferings in life
” I never once saw my father cry or display any emotion at all about what he had lost.”—P28
” The lesson was this: numb yourself to what would naturally sicken and sadden. Crying is not an option”—-P75
Zbigniew’s life lesson to Magda is do not let anything affect you, don’t let yourself feel any pain, learn how to switch off or you will get hurt.
” In my father’s book, not to do something correctly for fear of being seen as unfeminine was idiotic.”—P104
” He fought dirty. He showed me no mercy.”—P104
” He had lost everything – the war, his family, his country. He need to win at somethings”.—P105
” You are good, but you will never be great”—P105 — high expectation
Growing up in an immigrant family, Magda also live under her father’s high expectation. She never gains Zbigniew’s approvals which makes her lots of self-confusion and no sense of belonging. Szubanski narrates the past impacts a lot to the present and parents’ experiences have a huge influence to their children at the same time.
Past and Present / Reconciliation ( how trauma cause misunderstanding between parent and children)
“We were tugboats in the river of history…pulling in opposite direction. He needs to forget I need to remember. For him, only the present moment would set him free. For me, the key lies buried in the past. The only way forward is back.”— P13
- Szubanski paints a vivid imagery of two tugboats going opposite directions. Seemingly, her mission to uncover the history of her family’s past is at odds with her father’s wish to forget the past. Szubanski places this metaphor early on in the memoir as the conflict with her and her father grow more intense during her adolescent years.
- The complex relationship between Magda and her father is exemplified through the analogy of them being ‘tugboats in the rivers of history…he wanted to move forward…I needed to go back.’ — The tugboats are utilised by Szubanski as a vehicle to reflect the distant relationship between Magda and her father. Moreover, it serves to highlight the tension between the two, as they move in seemingly opposite directions in life.
“Chunks of his subconscious that had remained submerged for decades began to break loose and float to the surface.” —P314
Szubanski acknowledges that all things that are hidden in the past all eventually come to the surface. Her father’s traumatic memories that he has tried so hard to supress comes to the fore as he shares about his experiences and the horrors of his days being an assassin with Magda.