‘If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin.’ Thus begins Magda’s extraordinary story.
Reckoning has forty-two chapters titled like scenes from a play. Magda plunges us into a world of raw experience while navigating the complex terrain of her relationship with her father, her sexuality and her emerging career. These are the central themes and we are invited to share in Magda’s personal struggle, ranging from the depths of loneliness and depression to love and joyful awakening.
Her memoir begins with her father’s death, and then we learn about her parent’s origins her own birth, schooling, relationships, travels and employment. Born in England in 1960 to a Polish father and Scottish–Irish mother, the family migrated to Australia in 1965 and settled in conservative Croydon, the backdrop of much of Magda’s story.
Magda admired her father’s courage but couldn’t understand his guilt and shame, and became terrified he had collaborated with the enemy in World War 11
‘We were tugboats in the river of history, my father and I, pulling in opposite directions. He needed to forget. I need to remember.’
In her journey to understand her father’s history and her own second-generation migrant survivor guilt Magda travels to meet her Polish and Scottish–Irish families: only to discover more suffering. She believed her father gave her ‘a master class in dissociation’. Courage and bravery were allowed but weakness and fear were criticised. She says that it took years of therapy to understand how to access and integrate her own feelings and not be afraid of showing weakness or fear.
Magda describes herself as a shy, private person who was indoctrinated with a ‘chronic dose of internalised homophobia’ and was terrified of the consequences of identifying as gay. In contrast to this shyness is her joyful discovery and success as an actor and comedian.
This memoir has an autobiographical structure including well-researched information, helping the reader deal with the complicated thematic, emotional and factual details that give necessary meaning and texture to the story.
Reckoning is a thoughtful, engaging and well-written book, which would appeal to admirers of Magda and lovers of memoir. It provides the reader with an insight into all facets of courage while reminding us how morally ambiguous the world can be. Magda honours her father’s history and we are left thinking about our own family and the complex legacies we inherit.