The novel Julia is about a woman's life spanning a period of over forty years during which she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and the search for happiness.
It is Liesel Lowy's second book. Originally written in German it was later translated into English. Although it has no direct ethnic relevance, it is a tale about feelings of alienation.
The hero is an Australian girl who was brought up in a Melbourne orphanage. The author herself is Jewish, grew up in Charlottenburg, a suburb of Berlin, and at the age of twenty, in 1938, had to flee Germany seeking refuge in Australia. Today she lives in Sydney in an apartment on a twentieth floor overlooking Darling Point. Besides being a writer, her occupations have included: wife; mother; and working in advertising as a promotional model. Hence she is familiar with what it means to be physically attractive, which contributes to the character in her story, who too often gets lost along the way.
In an almost journalistic style, the story begins in the early 1940's. It traces the young girl's, then woman's observations from an uncomfortable, unloving convent environment. Early friendships and a foster family situation are not conducive to standing on her own feet. Unsuccessful relationships with various men, marriage and motherhood lead to bitter confrontations. A thread of loneliness and lack of social acceptance is woven throughout these experiences, and along with an apparent instinct for survival, becomes the focus of the story.
'Thank you for trying to help me, Emma. I know I have a lot to learn yet', she paused, then added quickly, her eyes flashing with displeasure, 'I still have to lead my own life!
Again Emma did not know how to deal with the hardness which radiated from this girl she had taken into her care.(p.23)
He would not even hold her hand, let alone try to kiss her, and Julia was not sure, whether this made her happy or annoyed.(p.25)
Julia's urge towards independence and hunger for life-experience is continually illustrated. Determined to live life by her own rules she does not realise that it is living accordingly to basic social structure which would help her. Yet it is always important for her to make a good impression, albeit on a superficial level. Consequently, she often finds herself drawn to self-absorbed males and threatened by those who show a genuine interest in her.
Another significant factor about the text is that it is set in an era of cultural change and confusion regarding a woman's role within society. On one hand women are heralded for their independence, on the other, they are still expected to conform to society's moral requirements.
The reader becomes intimately familiar with Julia as she seeks a balance between independence and subordination, and can certainly empathise with her disposition, while helplessly witnessing the sometimes frustrating choices she makes, which, obviously, seem to have disastrous consequences.
Julia is a book which raises issues about society's values, a person's need for love and freedom of expression, and the intrinsic motivations which drive us to make decisions. Most importantly, it highlights the importance of an individual's sense of belonging which, in turn, is the basis for a sense of self-worth needed for the integration intoand contribution tothe wider society.
Many of these issues are contrasted and reflected in our daily lives. If one is to draw comparisons, there are whole groups of people within our diverse and apparently democratic society who are confronted by the same search upon which Julia embarksto find a niche that recognises and acknowledges her individual identity and subsequent needs. Whether born illegitimate and brought up in an orphanage, or having been torn away from one's family, as for instance many indigenous children were in Australia until the early 1970's, one is deprived of one's sense of belonging, a birthright to culture, heritage and all things that contribute to one's understanding of oneself.
Clarissa C Stein