THE FIRST POLKA by Horst Bienek


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Set in the small town of Gleiwitz in Upper Silesia, this German novel is poised in time on the edge of the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Upper Silesia being one of the border areas of mixed German/Polish population, the promise of war is utterly overwhelming--like a bad dream. And Valeska Piontek--a woman married to a paralyzed photographer, the mother of a daughter about to be married to a soldier, the friend of a tortured, part-Jewish writer boarding in her house--is the Mother-Courage-like central figure: she's as torn by conflicts, loyalties, and regrets as the Silesian town itself. This theme of the psychological/political uncertainties of modern East European border regions is becoming more common in European fiction: Gunter Grass, Czeslaw Milosz, and others have used it in their novels. But Bienek's treatment of the theme is often delivered in pedantic clumps (lists of Silesian ""Water-Polish"" words); and the book clomps along slowly, with doughy set-pieces (e.g., Valeska's daughter's wedding reception). Not very graceful work, if of academic interest to students of trends in modern European fiction.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Fjord