THE SILVER MADONNA by Eugenia Wasilewska


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Clutching ""a silver head of the Madonna. . . set in a gold filigree miniature altar,"" Eugenia Laessig is eighteen in 1939 when Papa -- a rich Polish landowner -- is jailed by the Russians and the family carted off to Siberia. in Siberia there is no fuel, no food, no hope, no Papa. ""Thin potato soup and a small piece of hard, clay-like bread"" for Christmas, backbreaking toil and heartless Soviet officials. Headstrong Eugenia marries Kazik, a blond arrogant Pole, only to discover on her wedding night that ""I hated marriage as much as I hated Kazik."" She leaves, but months later, believing that ""At last my prayers were being answered. I was about to die"" discovers she is with child -- apparently a case of immaculate conception. Resolving to escape to Poland and Papa she raises a tidy sum by selling some jewels. Many tears and Siberian railway stops later she is nabbed and jailed. Soldiers with ""cruel eyes"" interrogate her; in a ""vicious, rasping voice"" she is accused of being a spy. But it's 1940, the bombs are beginning to fall and the Russians are fleeing the Germans. Eugenia staggers to her native village to be fed ""strawberries and cream, cheese, rich milk and meat pasties"" by the overjoyed townsfolk. Eventually Papa is located and a baby daughter is born. The poor girl's plight is certainly wretched but so is the self-pity which drips through this more-virtuous-than-thou narrative.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1971
Publisher: John Day