Plodding recollections of a year in wartime Poland.
As a young boy in Warsaw, the author rarely saw his glamorous mother Barbara, who left his care to a governess, Kiki. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Kiki returned to her family, and Barbara decided to take her son to the Ukraine, joining forces with several other relatives to flee Warsaw. She emerges as the real hero of this tale. Food was scarce in Soviet-occupied Ukraine, medicine scarcer still, but Barbara did whatever she had to—from telling lies to flirting with Soviet officers—to get provisions for her family. Finally, determined that her son would not grow up in the Soviet system, Barbara escaped with Julian to Hungary. The basic plotline is engaging enough, but Padowicz’s prose is flat and at times awkward (“The way they walked together didn’t look as though anyone was mad at anyone else anymore”). He relies too much on dialogue, and most of the characters sound alike. He fails to delve into his feelings about leaving Warsaw and losing Kiki, an omission that robs his account of emotional heft. That he provides almost no sensory details similarly distances readers from his experiences. The penultimate scene, for example, in which Padowicz and his mother crawl in the cold and through the snow of the Carpathian Mountains, cries out for descriptors. Padowicz also neglects his story’s potentially powerful religious subtext: Julian and Barbara were Jewish, but the Catholic prayers he learned from Kiki helped them go unnoticed in the Ukraine; that wincing irony is intriguing, but the author never fleshes it out.
A nice record for the author’s grandchildren, but not useful for anyone else.