Suffering, pain and loss are major themes which are explored in the novel. These themes are portrayed in a general way through the experiences of the Poles in World War II, and in a specific way through the experiences of the major character Krystyna.
Think about examples of suffering, pain and loss in the text. List as many as you can, including both quotations and specific examples. You must also consider both journeys. Does Krystyna change as a character because of her experiences
2. Cultural Identity
Cultural identity is a significant theme in the novel. The Poles demonstrate a strong association with their country and their beliefs. They have a sense of patriotism and national pride which they hold close to them during their wartime experience.
Explain how we know that culture is an important aspect of this story. You could think about Krystyna’s Polishness and her attitude to this; also the attitude of others. Do you think their strong sense of cultural identity helps them through the war in any way?
3. The effect of war on people
War is a dehumanising experience which scars people, both physically and mentally. The experiences of Krystyna and her family, along with millions of other Poles during World War II, certainly demonstrate this truth.
Consider the physical and mental effects that Krystyna and her family suffer as a result of WWII. Also think about the possible effects of war on the soldiers that fought. What preoccupations is Krystyna left with on her arrival to New Zealand?
Think about the examples throughout the novel which teach us the importance of family. Again, consider both the European part of the novel and the New Zealand part. How does Krystyna regain a sense of family?
The fact that Krystyna survived the war is a testament to her remarkable strength of character. She not only survived her wartime experiences, but she also survived the alienation from her beloved homeland and isolation in New Zealand.
Explain the qualities Krystyna possessed which helped her to survive the trauma of war. Why do some people survive and not others? What does her survival teach you about people’s responses to life and death situations in general?
6. Adapting to a new culture and country
During war people are often displaced from their homeland. In the novel we see the importance of Krystyna’s ability to adapt to a new culture and country; essentially to begin again.