The red shoe by Ursula Dubosarsky

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The Red Shoe is yet another brilliant book by Australian author Ursula Dubosarsky. Set in Sydney’s Palm Beach over nine days during the Cold War of the 1950s, the story focuses on a family on the brink of upheaval. Daughters Matilda, Frances and Elizabeth are all very different, but they are all affected by their father’s job and subsequent behaviour. A merchant seaman who saw action during World War II, their father continues to be away constantly as part of his work. However, he is due back home at Easter but does not arrive. Little by little the reader is let into the disastrous and far-reaching events of the day at The Basin and just how they have affected each and every member of the family. Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth has a nervous breakdown and her mother battles depression.The private and secretive neighbours also draw Matilda’s interest and the genuine newspaper articles that are interspersed throughout the text help the reader to understand that the neighbours are probably the asylum seeking Mr. Petrov and perhaps his bodyguards.

Dubosarsky’s story provokes many questions and not all of them are answered directly, leaving the reader to think and speculate. Was that last newspaper article about Uncle Paul? Why weren’t the school children told about Mark? Why would Mr. Petrov’s driver give the girls a lift to school? Why would the girls’ mother leave them unattended in the city for over an hour?

Written in the third person, but through the perspective of youngest daughter, Matilda, The Red Shoe is a poignant look at a specific time in Australia’s history, through the clouded eyes of a child. Issues of mental and physical health are not often associated with the cliched view of affluent Australia in the 1950s, but the scourge of polio, depression and what then would have been termed ‘shell shock’ are viewed in terms of the wider human cost of such illnesses. The theme of red (Russians, Cold War, communism) and red shoes run throughout the book. Matilda reads and thinks about Hans Christian Anderson’s Red Shoes, and her mother owns a magnificent pair of red shoes, which Matilda damages symbolically during the day at The Basin.

The Red Shoe is a beautifully crafted story.

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