POLAND by James A. Michener

POLAND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The dullest, if timeliest, history lesson yet from Michener Junior College--following three Polish clans (noble, petty-noble, peasant) from 1204 A.D. to the present, but with little of the uplifting, dynastic sweep of this mechanical Michener-format at his best. The saga begins with a talky 1981 confrontation, in the village of Bukowo on the Vistula, between farm-union leader Janko Buk and Communist agriculture minister Szymon Bukowski. . . who turn out to be related. Then it's back, back, to the 13th century--when Buk's ancestors are downtrodden peasants, Bukowski's are the local feudal lords, and above them are the fully noble Counts Lubonski. In the 1200s these Poles are ravaged by Tatar raids, with the Polish "abhorrence of central power" one cause of the region's vulnerability. A century-and-a-half later, the current count sends a Bukowski/Buk duo to spy on the Teutonic Knights who threaten po. land from the west (ostensibly because the Poles are still "pagans"); in the 1410 Battle of Grunwald, the Poles join the Tatars and others--in serviceable battle scenes--to trounce the Germans. In the 1600s the land is devastated again, by Swedes ("they went totally berserk") and slaughtering Transylvanians; yet by 1683, despite the "insane" governing system of the Polish barons, the country has pulled itself together--thanks in part to charismatic King Jan Sobieski, who leads triumphant Polish forces (including a Buk and a Bukowski, of course) against Vienna-invading Turks. Next, however, come the disastrous 1790s: Poland's reformers fail to dislodge the barons ("Symbolically, Feliks and Jan, master and serf, walked together up the gentle hill" to join freedom-fighter Kosciuszko); Poland's neighbors exploit its internal weakness, annexing and obliterating the nation. Then, jump to 1895 Vienna--with Count Andrzej Lubonski row Austria's minister of Minorities and Wiktor Bukowski (with servant Buk) a minor official: Bukowski's Polish consciousness is raised by a beauteous pianist's Chopin, he marries a cultured American and returns to Bukowo. . . while Buk at last gets his own swatch of land (in return for marrying Bukowski's pregnant mistress). So, when Poland comes back into existence in 1918, Count L. labors at achieving multi-ethnic nationalism, Mrs. Bukowski entertains Paderewski, Bukowski helps fight the Communists--all in vain: the Nazis will invade, with underground/concentration-camp bravery ahead for the clans. (One Bukowski does "slither" off to Paris with his art collection.) And the finale is 1981 again. . . as Bukowski and Buk finally come together in anti-Communist solidarity. Simplistic yet inconsistent, Michener's trio-of-families approach offers a spotty, confusing overview of complex history; while emphasizing lapses in Polish leadership, he idealizes and glosses over elsewhere--with, for example, a near-total whitewash of Polish anti-Semitism. And, despite a few courtships and weddings, the parade of characters here is flat, utterly humorless, un-involving. Look elsewhere, then, either for strong historical fiction or a coherent introduction to Polish history. But look to the bestseller lists nonetheless: the facts are piled high, the title is in the headlines, the byline is inescapable.
Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1983
ISBN: 0449205878
Page count: 644pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1983




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