A unique Boswellian biography of the Pope: a sprawling collection of anecdotes and conversations, hard facts and juicy gossip, memories and opinions from a hundred varied sources in Poland and Rome. Gronowicz is a prolific but little-known Polish-American writer (popular bios, novels, poetry, plays, essays), a lapsed Catholic, and a shrewd, vivacious character, now apparently in his seventies. The core of the book is the 200 hours of private audience Gronowicz charmed the Pope into giving him--with some fairly revealing results. But the best parts are the saucy, no-holdsbarred interviews outside the Vatican: with Wladyslaw Gomulka, Edward Gierek, and best of all Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, who was recklessly frank, no doubt because he was dying of cancer. Out of this welter of dialogue a number of graphic scenes catch the reader's eye: Wojtyla's father feigning insanity by claiming he is God--to avoid being shot by the Austrians for stealing guns; young Karol (Lolek) being shot at by a momentarily demented friend; Jagellonian University student Wojtyla turning his back on a would-be sweetheart, Halina KrÃ³likiewicz (whence the persistent rumors of his marriage?); conscripted worker Wojtyla being run down by a Nazi truck and saved by a (Jewish?) woman; Fr. Wojtyla nabbing two pickpockets on a train. Also: Bishop Wojtyla walking with bloody bare feet on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, transferring his mother's body from Wadowice to Cracow while government agents dressed as grave diggers shadow him, baptizing a heroic kangaroo (which had saved an entire family from a burning house) in order to make a convert from Lutheranism. . . and on and on. Gronowicz's John Paul II dreams of becoming Pope years before it happens, and very much wants the job. He's sharply critical of American materialism and complacency (though never as acid-tongued as Wyszyfiski, who calls Lech Walesa ""a charismatic simpleton""). He's phenomenally well-read (quoting Tocqueville from memory) and genuinely holy, but driven and demon-ridden. Gronowicz's story is too long, chaotic, and padded (with the Pope's plodding verse, among other things), but redeems itself by its verve and constant indiscretion (Gierek's mistresses, John XXIII's appreciation of Monica Vitti's dÃ‰colletage, Paul VI's ""offer"" of the papacy to Wojtyla). This one, as they say, will rattle the dovecotes.