THE PASSION OF POLAND: From Solidarity to the State of War by Lawrence Weschler
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THE PASSION OF POLAND: From Solidarity to the State of War

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Compared to other books on Solidarity, Wescbler's first-person reportage, most of which was published in The New Yorker, is positively breezy. The first half, taking the story up to the pre-martial law autumn of 1981 (and published in 1982 as Solidarity: Poland in the Season of Its Passion), combines light anecdotes about the black market experiences of the author; long, almost too-well-crafted quotations from Solidarity activists and rank-and-filers explaining what was going on; and a good deal of Polish gallows humor. (Around the bleak time of Solidarity's last congress in September and October 1981, Weschler quotes a filmmaker's observation that ""this would be a fascinating experiment if we weren't its subjects."") The second half--based on Weschler's return visit in late 1982, and reflections from afar in August 1983--manages a note of optimism even as it describes the arguments among Solidarity activists then imprisoned, underground, or in exile, including arguments over whether or not Jaruzelski had saved Poland from the Soviets. The Pope's 1982 visit, Weschler thinks, was a symbolic occasion marking the promise of future renewal for the spirit behind Solidarity. As for the breeziness, it seems to be infectious--picked up from the people Weschler hung around with. Solidarity was a swirl of different factions, personalities, and world views that delighted in its own open democracy. There's a lot of darkness, too: vivid accounts here of long lines for food and other necessities when Solidarity was at its height in 1981; the equally gloomy absence of lines in 1982, when the appearance of order masked the fact that ""in many cases, there is simply nothing in the stores."" Weschler's ability to evoke the sensations of Poland's public and private life adds a crucial dimension missed in even the most careful third-person narrative; he revell in pieces of wisdom such as this one from a Warsaw professor: ""It doesn't matter how clever the underground is, it will lose. And it doesn't matter how clever the regime is, it will lose. Poland--Poland always loses."" When he's removed from these surroundings, as in the last part, the tangled threads of optimism and despair lose their living quality, and Weschler is unable to add anything to them. But at their best, Weschler's reports are more than color; they capture the story on a human level. His descriptions of public housing projects, or the crumbling Jewish historical museum in Warsaw, are the sort of stuff you won't get anywhere else. For help in making sense out of it all, see both Ash and Staniszkis (above).

Pub Date: April 30th, 1984
Publisher: Pantheon