Not a full-fledged life but, rather, the last decade or so in the on-going adventures of the portly, apple-cheeked forklift-repairman and Nobel Prize laureate who triggered the collapse of the Communist empire. Walesa opens in 1984, a year of despair: Solidarity has been outlawed; passivity rules; Poland is in the clutches of ""vulgar and dim-witted apparatchiks."" Seven years later, Walesa would he elected president of his nation. According to Walesa, the key player during this turnabout was not himself but Pope John Paul II, under whose spiritual leadership ""Europe recovered its identity, becoming a continent of free countries."" Emotions surge during the Pope's three visits to Poland, each ""as necessary as the san,"" rallying a brutalized people to renew their struggle for freedom and justice. Mostly, though, we get the struggles of the Walesa clan: Lech, in and out of prison, hunting for a new house, quitting tobacco; wife Danka, ""my guiding light,"" battling the police, shooing reporters from the kitchen; six children coming of age during the rebirth of a nation. Signs of revolution are everywhere, and not the least of them are visits by world celebrities--Thatcher, Bush, Elton John--to the humble Walesa household in Gdansk to support the cause. Finally, the state edifice cracks and free elections are held in 1989. Much detail is offered about internal political squabbles that hold little interest for Americans. On the other hand, Walesa confronts squarely the problem of Polish anti-Semitism and comes off as a real mensch. Whether describing his triumphant speech to Congress, his devotion to the Virgin Mary, or his fear that his sons may emigrate to Western Europe or America, he sounds just like what he is: a working-class hero, salt-of-the earth. As satisfying as a platter of kielbasi and pierogi--and without all the fat.