THE POLES by Stewart Steven


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Hedrick Smith's The Russians showed that a journalist could return from a foreign assignment with enough understanding to introduce readers to the people who never make the headlines--but Steven, an editor for the London Daily Mail (also wed to a Polish artist), hasn't mastered the trick. His perceptions of Poland, after many visits, seem more tied to an image than to anything he's learned. After the recent books by Ascherson (Polish August) and Weschler (Solidarity), it's a step back to say that ""a Communist who is not also a Stalinist is not a Communist at all,"" or that the Polish people withdrew support from the government as soon as the Communists took over. That's the kind of simple analysis bred of Polish ÉmigrÉs rather than close contact with the many shades of Polish political activity. The litany regarding the social conditions of life--the black market, the long lines at stores, the bureaucratic incompetence, even the dire jokes--is droned out with no particular insight or color. For evaluation, Steven resorts to hyperbole: Solidarity ""was a national crusade, a revolutionary movement of both political and spiritual renewal, the like of which I doubt the world has ever seen."" (Jacek Kuron, a central intellectual figure of the Polish rebellion, is credited by Steven with ""one of the most magnificently sustained critiques of Marxism that has ever been produced."") Perhaps most hyperbolic of all is Steven's claim that during the Nazi occupation the Poles did more than most other occupied nations to protect its Jews--a claim he bases on a single Polish text. A Solidarity coattail-rider--and of very little use.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Macmillan