Read the first chapter of Magda Szubanski's Reckoning

By Magda Szubanski | Jan 27, 17 08:54 AM

One of the most moving Australian memoirs you'll ever read

This is an extract from Magda Szubanski's memoir Reckoning 

If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin. He was warmhearted, friendly, engaging, intelligent, generous, humorous, honourable, affectionate, arrogant, blunt, loyal. He was a family man. He was handsome, although he did not have heroic stature. He was ve foot four. He was stylish, fashion-conscious; a dandy even. He also looked incredibly young for his age. In his seventies he took to wearing his baseball cap backwards and, believe it or not, he carried it off.

He loved tennis, he loved ballet, he loved good conversation. Out there in the Melbourne suburbs—mowing the lawn in his terry- towelling hat and his Bombay bloomers; in the lounge room doing the samba at cocktail parties; late at night playing his harmonica in the laundry—you would never have guessed that he was capable of killing in cold blood. But he was. Poor bastard.

He was born in 1924. He was a boy of fteen when Hitler invaded his homeland and the war began, and as soon as he was able he joined the ghting. All through our growing up he would say, ‘I was judge, jury, and executioner.’ And I could never imagine—cannot imagine even now—what it feels like to have that responsibility, that guilt. To be a little god with a gun, and the power over life and death.

He spent the rest of his life trying to come to terms with what he had done. I grew up in the shadow of that reckoning.

In the Museo del Prado there is a painting by Hieronymous Bosch called The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, painted around 1494. In the fteenth century itinerant surgeons offered relief from the scourge of insanity by performing trepanation. They would cut a hole in the patient’s skull and then remove what they called the ‘stone of madness’. Astonishingly, many people survived.

I swear sometimes I can feel that stone in my head. A palpable presence, an unwelcome thing that I want to squeeze out of my skull like a plum pip, using nothing but the sheer pressure of thought and concentration. If I just think hard enough...

That stone was my father’s legacy to me, his keepsake. Beneath his genial surface, somewhere in the depths, I would sometimes catch a glimpse—of a smooth, bone-coloured stone. A stone made of calci ed guilt and shame. I could feel it.

I can feel it still. 


Magda Szubanski is going on a national tour with Business Chicks and, if this chapter is anything to go by, it's going to be incredible. Get your tickets for Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide here

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