Considering The Memoir Reckoning: A Memoir- Magda Szubanski

51GW2tlrbJL._SY346_.jpgMagda Szubanski, the much loved and admired Australian actress and comedian, was one of the headline presenters at the 2016 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Indonesia. The spacious Neka Gallery venue was already packed with curious and supportive fans when I arrived just a few minutes after the introductions. It was standing room only but no one complained as we all wanted to hear Magda talk about her memoir, Reckoning.

The line between an autobiography and a memoir has grown fuzzy and the terms are often used interchangeably. While autobiography has become faintly tainted with scholarly nostalgia and a bit old fashioned, memoirs have turned out to be enormously successful over the last 20 years. Several literary critics and historians have attributed the popularity of the memoir craze to the fact that we live in a “confessional age”, that grew out of the psychoanalytic/ therapeutic era followed by pop psychology counseling and the various self -help movements that have been reshaping our understanding of ourselves and others.

The therapeutic model has re-addressed and embraced the human need for confessional release outside the purview of the Catholic Church. It is interesting to consider that St. Augustine’s book Confession’s, written in the fourth century, would today be considered a memoir. Times Book critic Michiko Kakutani has stated that, “For St Augustine “Confessions” was a spiritual journey to redemption, something between him and God. The conversation between one’s self and God has become a conversation with, and about, the whole world.” Today, we cannot watch a contemporary TV drama without some character offering ‘to be there for you, if you ever want to talk’. What used to be private is now public and the norm, part of a modern way of life.

Confession can also be a powerful political tool.

Magda Szubanski is a savvy gay rights activist.

Magda came out in 2012 while campaigning for gay marriage in Australia, appearing on The Project to announce: ‘I am gay, gay, gay, gay gay’. She later described the revelation as ‘the most empowering thing’ she had ever done.

She is well aware of the power a book about her own journey as a lesbian will have on others in the international Gay community. She may have lost a few fans when she came out, but judging from the admiring audience at her presentation at the festival her career and popularity is stronger than ever.

Magda Szubanski memoir opens with the sentence, “ If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant have thought he was an assassin.” I think that understated attention grabbing line deserves to join the ranks of those other best first liners we test each other’s memories over glasses of beer: What novel begins with, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times…” Or, “Call me Ishmael.” or “Happy marriages are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”?

The voice in the book is much like Magda’s in real life. A straightforward style with an ever so slightly disarming honesty that made me trust her. Her father, Zbigniew Szubanski, came from a good Polish family. At sixteen he signed up to be part of group of Polish underground resisters and assassinated other Poles who were collaborating or providing information to the Nazis about where Jewish families were being hidden. Magda conveys a complicated but convincing reaction to this information.

“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 seclusion of 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 fifteen when Hitler invaded his Homeland and the war began, and as soon as he was able he joined the fighting. 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.”

Magda also conveys her gradual youthful awakening that she likes girls rather than boys. She covers her catholic girlhood, her depressed, rebellious teenage years right into the political feminist period at the university where she met and became involved with an another lesbian and connected with actors.

During her interview session at the writers festival, she was asked about her take on the current gay climate. She said,’ “ Oh, it is much better, not great, but much better. We need to do more to make it even better.”

Magda has been open about her struggle to accept her own sexuality, previously admitting to Marie Claire: ‘When I was younger I used to pray to be straight,’ and saying that she had only grown to accept herself after years of therapy.

“The bottom line is there’s nothing wrong with being gay. I tell you, if there was a tablet you could take to cure it, I wouldn’t take it.”

Society would be much better advised, she said, to “look at the genetic predisposition for prejudice and intolerance, find a pill that will cure that, [and] put it in the water, problem solved”.

In May 2016, Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning: A Memoir won the Australian Book of the Year Award. Readers may buy Szubanski’s book because they know her from TV and films.  She has performed in the television comedy programs.The D-GenerationFast Forward, and the very popular Kath & Kim where she played Sharon Strzelecki. But, they will finish” Reckoning” with a new admiration for Szubanski as a writer.







Aprons Rule At The Ubud Food Festival


Aprons Rule At The Ubud Food Festival 

By Uma Anyar

How did we get from a dinner plate of mashed potatoes, some kind of meat and boiled broccoli or steamed spinach accompanied by a glass of tap water or milk to “blue cheese tortellini stuffed with cashew nut blue cheese with sun-dried tomato-herb oil, served with baby red beets and a sprig of basil” that was meticulously hand-watered and nurtured in a private permaculture garden just a few steps from the restaurant kitchen? When did we transition from food as body fuel to food as sophisticated social status or a politically correct morality conversation between vegans and meat eaters and raw foodies versus cooks that advocate, poached, boiled, baked or barbequed foods? I heard a young up and coming chef proclaim that preparing raw food might be something but it is not cooking.

The political foodie crusade is part of the greater Gaya/ Whole Earth consciousness movement, which precedes and integrates with global warming warnings that have everybody sweating. The chiding tee -shirt slogan, “You are what you eat!” exhorts us to eat healthy foods in order to be healthy, happy and responsible, In other words, it is up to us to make a better world and save the planet. And, of course that is exactly right, as there is no one else to do it.

I got a chance to talk briefly with Jakarta based food writer and chef Petty Elliott. I asked her “ Why have Food Festival events become so popular during the last ten years?” Petty thought a minute and said, “Chefs are no longer just chefs. They have a lot of influence in a world food community, especially celebrity chefs.

An example is Renee’ Redzepi, owner and chef of NOMA, in Copenhagen, which has been awarded best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine (2010-2014). Redzepi has strongly influenced eating habits in Europe and worldwide. He is the father of new Nordic cooking and advocates using only locally grown food products. He has made foraging for vegetables and herbs a hip thing to do. Of course the Balinese have been doing this for a long time. The idea of eating locally grown vegetables, fruits and locally raised livestock has caught on in the world because we have all become concerned about the planet. People want to return to smaller local farming and get away from corporate run farms. It is alarming that Monsanto owns the world supply of seeds. Food festivals are ways of connecting to the world food community, many chefs and politically active foodies are trying to counter the industrialization of food by advocating for ‘locality foods’. Food festivals are petri dishes for spreading culture and ecological ideas. The great result of this festival has been the broad attendance and interaction of all parts of the community making it a truly international event.”

Ubud has a plethora of great restaurants, including top-notch Indonesian restaurants, as well as a profusion of East/West fusion eateries and a healthy dollop of trendy vegetarian, restaurants like Alchemy and The Elephant. Indonesian food is well represented from high-end eateries to favorite local warungs. Ask any Balinese man what his favorite Indonesian dish is and nine times out of ten he will say Babi Guling. Oka’s Warung being the favorite of spit roasted suckling pig lovers.

Trip Advisor has rated Locavore in Ubud the sixteenth best restaurant in the world. It is in the top fifty restaurants in all of Asia. Blanco par Mandif, The Bridges and Mosaic are constantly praised for high international cuisine standards. It seems that once a few restaurants gain success more and more join in. Ubud is known as a yoga town and in the last five years yoga’s influence has sprouted at least five vegetarian and vegan eateries. The slow food movements is alive and well in Ubud. It is a town where more people talk about food and wine and causes than they do about sex and money.

During this Ubud Food Festival I had the pleasure of attending several eating events. “The Garden Grazing with an Eye On The Plate’ dinner at the newly established Moksa Restaurant was a collaboration between Gaya Ceramics and Moksa’s owners. Fourteen clay artists from around the world were invited to make plates, bowls, cups, platters and vessels for the sophisticated seven course raw and vegan dishes created by the admired Chef Made (formerly a chef at Five Elements Resort). Moksa’s open-air dining room overlooks the well-maintained and beloved permaculture garden created by co- founder, Janur Yasa. I asked if he was able to actually feed all of his clientele from one garden. He smiled and said, ”One day I hope it will be possible but for now I am glad if I can do fifty percent.” Where do the rest of the ingredients come from? “We work with local Bali farmers whose farming methods match mine.” The amazing blue cheese Tortellini, mentioned earlier in this article, was created at Moksa in accordance with Chef Made’s holistic high standards. It was an evening of culinary delights served on ceramic creations. I advise using a motorbike for transport to Moksa, as the road is narrow and difficult for a car. I hope the owners will consider serving wine in the future, as it would have enhanced the cuisine, and the festivity of the meal.

A most educational and enjoyable lesson in wine and food took place at The Bridges where Sommelier Antoine Olivain guided a room full of wine lovers and diners through an assortment of fine international wines, which, he paired with a variety of classic Indonesian dishes. I treated my husband, a reluctant socializer but pretty good homemade wine maker, to this wine-pairing event thinking he might enjoy learning which wines enhance his favorite Indonesian dishes. It was a relaxing and interesting master class where sniffing, swirling and sipping wine while nibbling on canapés of bebek betutu or sate kambing. Monsieur Olivain summed up his mission saying. “Food is culture and I want people to learn and love Indonesian foods like I do”. Following are the wines Antoine paired with these Indonesian dishes: Laksa Udang with Babich Chardonney, New Zealand, 2014. Pepes Ikan –Cliffhanger, Riesling. Germany, 2013, Bebek Betutu –Watershed Shades, Shiraz rose’, Australia 2014, Sate Kambing –Georges Duboeuf, Moulin-a-Vent Gamey, France, 2011 and the most surprising pairing which was a bit sweet but actually delicious in combination with the spicy beef- Rendang with Beringer, White Zinfandel, USA, 2013.

Reading, Writing, and Learning at UWRF Workshops



Reading, Writing, and Learning at UWRF Workshops

By Uma Anyar

This year the Ubud Writers & Readers festival offered 11 adult level workshops on many aspects of the writing field. Almost all sold out before the festival started. The workshop sessions ran the gamut from inspirational topics on the psychology of writing to the nuts-and-bolts practicalities of how to self-publish an eBook.

I found Ric Shreve’s’ Self-Publishing & eBooks Workshop, held at Hubud – a popular and lively digital nomad co-working space near the Monkey Forrest in Ubud – to be a well-organised cornucopia of information ranging from which apps to use to produce your book to publishing your eBook with or without a publisher.

Tools, strategies and comparisons of the pluses and minuses of going it alone or finding a publisher were well laid out so that even rank beginners could understand what was at stake and could make an informed decision.

Ric Shreves, the workshop presenter, is a seasoned, polished speaker who presented technical information in an understandable and interesting manner. He kept tech jargon down to a minimum and encouraged us to ask questions. But the best thing about this particular workshop was that Ric Shreves compiled the pertinent points and core information into an outline of slides, which he presented during the workshop and also published online. “No more xeroxed handouts,” he stated, “so more tree are still growing”. You can check out the main points for yourself, here:

The Self-Publishing & eBook Workshop attendees were a vigorous combination of seniors, youngsters and ‘middlers’ who hailed from Singapore, Jakarta and a variety of western countries as well as a few born and bred Ubudians. A Jakarta woman wanted to publish an illustrated children’s book, others were working on novels, cookbooks and practical how-to books.

Ric Shreves is a tech guru and has published 20 books to date, 13 of which are popular technology books both in paperback and on Kindle. The most notable are: Social Media Optimization for Dummies, Joomla Bible and How To WordPress 4. Ric is a multi-talented guy who has boundless energy. He says he is fueled by lots of coffee and curiosity. He is an author, web developer and a partner at Water & Stone, an interactive agency specialising in open source technologies. He’s worked with content management technologies for more than ten years and previously served as the Chairman of the non-profit Mambo Foundation.

“So who should publish their own eBook? ” Ric asked our group, then proceeded to tell us in simple outline form: someone who has time, perseverance and cash, as well as someone who wants total control over their book and is willing to hire editors, graphic designers and promoters or do these tasks all by themselves.

The benefit of self-publishing is that you get to keep all the royalties. He recommended various applications that he thinks excel in various stages of producing an eBook, from research to writing the text, formatting and sourcing images. charges five dollars for a single task such as designing a book cover. This is a site to check out if you have not already discovered it.

For the 12 years I have been attending the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, one of the constant questions has been will print publishing survive or will we end up only reading eBooks on various devices?

At this point in 2015 the either/or query is not appropriate. The answer is obviously both, but not in equal measures. Some books are meant to be simple and these are quick and easy to download. But the interesting and dynamic possibilities lie in Interactive eBooks. It will be interesting to see how artists/writers will be using interactive technology tools to produce new genres, a new approach of experiencing books that is not passive. Think theatre, think games, think group dynamics. The possibilities for digital interactive books/arts are limitless. Perhaps there will be a workshop on interactive eBooks at the 2016 UWRF in conjunction with Hubud or Outpost. I can only suggest and hope.

For audiocasts and written reflections on the 2015 Festival, please head to



Buy Me The Sky- The Remarkable Truth of China’s One-Child Generations by Xinran


Buy Me The Sky-  Xinran

The Remarkable Truth of China’s One-Child Generations


By Uma Anyar

One of the rewards of being a long-term attendee at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is the pleasure of reconnecting with a writer one discovered at an earlier festival return with a new book. That pleasure is doubled if the new book Buy Me The Sky is as thought provoking as her first book, Sky Burial. This is the case with the Chinese -English writer, Xinran who spoke at the 2008 festival.

This year, Xinran returns to Ubud, (Oct 28-Nov. 1, 2015) with a ten- years in the making book about China’s momentous “one child’ policy introduced in 1978 and enacted on September 18, 1980. It was instituted to alleviate social, economic and environmental problems in China. But like

China’s many overhauling governmental policies that have been imposed on the populous; the solution has become a new problem with severe social and familial impacts. Xinran explores, exposes and reveals the actual solo child behind the ‘little princess and little emperor’ syndrome that characterizes children born in China since 1984.

A generation of “one and onlies” dominate current day China. They are the apples of their parents’ eyes, but are burdened with high expectations and simultaneously criticized by society as “little emperors”. They are both envied and scorned. This “selfie generation” is both better educated but less capable of talking care of themselves or caring for others. They have been over protected and spoiled by their doting parents and grandparents who feel they have only one shot at generational immortality. These emerging young adults feel lost and confused about themselves and their role in modern Chinese society.

In the introduction of Buy Me The Sky, Xinran   writes about an incident she witnessed on the street in Beijing during one of her

frequent return trips to China to visit her family, friends and to keep up her education on contemporary China. She recounts an incident she witnessed where a cluster of parents, grandparents and others were all fussing over a four year old boy who was demanding that his parents buy him the river that the child was pointing to. The adults became embroiled in a discussion about what to tell the child. Some said, “Just say you will buy him the river and calm him down.” Others thought that lying was not good as it might set a bad precedent; the child would expect them to buy the sky or the moon as well.

Years of extreme maternal doting has produced Du Zhuang, a university student who has never hung up his own clothes in his closet and cannot pack or unpack his own suitcase. His mother, worried about her son’s first trip to London, called her friend, Xinran and implored the writer to unpack her dear boy’s clothes and to cook his favorite meals. These are not the usual requests one expects when hosting a 21-year-old visitor from one’s home country. Du Zhuang’s mother fussed and coddled her son thoroughly, she travelled an hour to his college dormitory room where she cleaned up, put away his clothing and brought him home cooked meals each and every weekend of his school term. All of this love produced a highly incapable young man unable to cope with the world outside his family.

Although Xinran herself has only one child, Panpan, born in 1988, she moved to London in 1997 and married British literary agent, Toby Eady. Panpan was raised bi-culturally. Because he has been educated in a Western culture that expects self-reliance among other social skills he is not a hothouse only child. But she is aware that he was a lonely boy who was often needy for her attention. In Buy Me The Sky she recounts her own stories about the difficulties of motherhood and how her work has kept her from not spending enough time with her son while he was growing up. Like most mothers she too is uncertain as to what is the best way to raise a child in this era of unprecedented change and globalization.

Xinran writes a column for The Guardian called What the Chinese Don’t Eat. She is a sought after speaker on China and consults for Sky news and the BBC in London. She is also a women’s rights activist and in 2004 started The Mother’s Bridge of Love (MBL), a non- profit organization that reaches out to Chinese children in all corners of the world. By creating a bridge of understanding between China and the West and between adoptive culture and birth culture, MBL ultimately wants to help bridge the huge poverty gap that still exists in many parts of China. Mother’s Bridge of Love came third in TIME magazine’s list of the top ten children’s books of 2007.

Xinran has written seven books about contemporary China. Xinran is the pen name of Xuē Xīnrán, born on July 19, 1958 into a wealthy and privileged family. Her grandparents raised her because her parents were imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution. Her first memory was of the Red Guards setting her home on fire when she was 6 years old.

Buy Me The Sky is built around a sensational and heinous crime that provoked numerous arguments and raised the question: Is it a good thing to be an only child in China today and how has Chinese society changed because of the solo child policy? On the night of 20 October 2010 Yao Jiaxin, a twenty two year-old music student, ran over a twenty six year-old female migrant worker with his car. Not only did he make no attempt to help her, on the contrary, he was so afraid that this woman from the countryside would make trouble for him when he saw her memorizing his license plate that he stabbed her eight times with a fruit peeling knife. He killed the mother of a three year-old on the spot. Yao then fled in his car and ran over and injured another pedestrian. He was finally apprehended and on 22 April 2011 he was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to death.

This highly publicized case divided China into three tribes along theoretical and moral lines. One faction supported the death penalty verdict. “Another faction held that Yao was a victim of an only child society and that this should be considered and that the death penalty is not appropriate for a modern civilized society. The third group, mostly made up of university students, maintained that the life of an only child who had been put through higher education in the arts was of more intrinsic value than that of an uneducated peasant.”

In an impartial tone Xinran recounts the coming –of- age-stories of nine “onlies” with whom she has had prolonged personal interviews It is an insider’s look into the hearts and minds of a unique generation that will be moving into political and societal positions of power in China. Buy MeThe Sky has raised many important questions, which I look forward to hearing discussed at various UWRF sessions.