Sunday, February 21, 2021

POLAND


 Poland, James A Michener, Random House, 1983, 556 pp

This is the 15th book I have read by this master of historical fiction. Though it has been on my shelves for many years I read it at this time because I had two other novels coming up written by Polish authors. I became interested in the country and its authors through a member of The Tinies reading group who is of Polish descent and has visited there several times. I wanted to learn more.

Michener begins: "In a small Polish farm community during the fall planting season of 1981, events occurred which electrified the world, sending reverberations of magnitude to capitals as diverse as Washington, Peking and especially Moscow." Who knew?

In 1981, Poland was still under Soviet Communist rule. The farmers of that small community sent a representative to meet with Communist officials proposing a farmers union in order to better their economic status. They were denied but the meeting was a turning point in Poland's fight to free themselves the Soviet Union.

In Chapter 2, the story jumps back to 1200 AD in the times of Genghis Khan and proceeds forward, following members of three families and their descendants to show how Poland reached that 20th century crisis. It is a tale of Nobles, Kings, Clergy, merchants, Jews, small land holders and peasants.

Once a vast land, areas of Poland have been carved away over time by the barbarian Tartars, Russia, the Austro Hungarian Empire, and Germany. The propensity of their Nobles to hang on to their lands, castles and riches plays out in relation to what amounted to slavery among the peasants, or serfs as they were then called. For centuries self-interested interactions between the Nobles and surrounding hostile nations led to wars and lack of a strong government for Poland. 

Such a tempestuous journey from Medieval to modern times makes for absorbing reading. Wars and battles, victories and losses, bravery and love of country, artist and musicians (Chopin), a majestic landscape of rivers, mountains and forests. Always the backbreaking work of serfs to keep the population fed and served and to provide cannon fodder for the wars.

Because the novel was published in 1983, plenty has happened for Poland since. The current government has been free of the Soviet Union for several decades now but is right wing and conservative. I looked up some of the history of those decades. Though the country is more sound economically, a strong Catholic presence and the tone of the government impacts women's rights and the freedoms of writers. 

It is good to have the long range picture, including the horrors of WWII, the Nazi concentration camps, the Soviet influence after that war, and the ongoing conflicts between Christians and Jews in Poland. In fact, it is difficult to understand the current news about any country so foreign to Americans. Michener's book filled in the gaps in my knowledge and was well worth spending a week to read.

24 comments:

  1. hearty congrats on reading so much Michener! the only Polish author i've read, so far as i can recall, is Stanislaw Lem, who i'm just crazy about; he's scifi satirist a universe apart from any other writer i've read... interesting place and i feel sorry for the serfs...

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    1. When I counted up his books that I have read, I impressed my own darn self. I just added up the pages, counting Hawaii twice, because I have read it twice: 9486 pages!!
      I just now finished Solaris, first read, though I have seen one of the movies. I am not crazy about him yet but I could see how I might become so. What are others of his you have loved?
      Yes, we should all feel sorry for the serfs and count ourselves lucky not to be one.

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    2. the series about Pirx the astronaut are great... and almost any of the others are thought provoking... Eden, especially, i thought

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  2. This is one I always meant to read as well. Both sets of my grandparents immigrated here from Poland. My parents were born in the US but they used to speak Polish when they didn't want us to know what they were saying LOL.

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    1. Oh Diane, you should read it! It's only 556 pages instead of his usual 900 or over 1000. I never lost interest once and learned so much history I had known nothing about. You will even learn about why so many people emigrated to America from Poland.

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  3. I think for many people, who are often put off from reading non-fiction history books (which they see as 'difficult' or 'boring') these books are a *great* way of appreciating the history of places & peoples. Plus they often prompt (me at least!) to investigate further by reading those non-fiction books.

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    1. Well that is what happened to me. It started with Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy and got a bump from Hilary Mantel's books about Henry VIII. Because when historical fiction is written well and based on solid research it makes me want to delve deeper with the non-fiction like Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Not to mention Will Durant.

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  4. Way back I read several Michener works, and I should read this one. There is a chance, if COVID ever permits travel again, we may visit Poland, so it would be background reading.

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    1. I first read Hawaii by Michener when I was visiting there. Poland would be a wonderful introduction to the country before you go!

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  5. Fascinating! Though at this point, I have a hard time launching into huge books

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    1. Huge books are for sure a time commitment. Last year I put one huge book a month on my reading lists. Then I made up for that with several short books or page turning thrillers. I plan to continue that this year.

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  6. Michener really could make the history of a place come alive, couldn't he? And you've read fifteen of his books! I think that must qualify you for at least a Master's Degree in history.

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  7. I've been wanting to read more books out of the USA, this sounds like a good author to look into!

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    1. You really can't miss with Michener!

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  8. I read one or two of Michener's books years ago, but this wasn't one of them. I should probably read it as I know very little about Poland and would love to learn more!

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    1. The book turned out to be an excellent start for me in learning about Polish history.

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  9. My brother spent several years working in Poland and as people told me this was the best fiction about Poland, I had a copy sent to him there. No response. When I found one at a book sale, I picked it up for me and you have reminded me to move it higher on my TBR.

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    1. Thank you for visiting my blog today and for leaving a comment. Perhaps your brother was daunted by the book's length? It took me a week to read it. But I did find it some of the best fiction about Poland as well as excellent historical fiction. I will have reviews of two books written by Polish authors coming soon.
      I visited your blog and liked what I saw. I read lots of older books and I see you do too. So I signed up to follow you there. I might not always comment on every post but I will visit as often as time permits.

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  10. So is there some family story to the whole thing? Or is it mostly history thru the decades? I was in Poland once upon a time ... it was very Catholic and the Pope was coming (!)

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    1. Yes, there are three families of differing status from serf to merchant to noble. Catholic Church is quite strong and in fact, several Popes came from Poland. Right now it is the church that is behind the latest ruling banning abortion of any kind.

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  11. It has been a long time since I read Michener. I have never read this. It sound like typify Michener. The history is interesting and often tragic.

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    1. All history is interesting and most is tragic. Yet, here we still are.

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