UNQUIET DAYS by Thomas Swick

UNQUIET DAYS

At Home in Poland
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Lovely but dull memoir of living and teaching English in Poland ten years ago, by the travel editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. By marrying a Polish woman and living among her extended family in Warsaw for two years (1980-82), Swick experienced Polish daily life at a time when Solidarity ignited hope and martial law throttled dissent and increased shortages. But while politics lurks at the periphery of this account, Swick's objective is to illuminate the essence of the Polish character through richly detailed descriptions of daily and yearly rhythms that, unfortunately, often become shapeless with uninteresting conversations and details. At his best, the anecdotes resonate: citizens struggling, despite shortages, to prepare traditional dishes for Christmas and Easter, proving that all is not lost under Communism if a family, against heavy odds, could procure a live carp. Much is implied when Swick notes of his students that the task of learning English has become ``the thing to do in Warsaw'' in lieu of entertainment. Yet from subsequent long passages about teachers' lounge chitchat, one wonders how entertained the kids can be. Switching from narrative to journal format, the author obliquely paints the quotidian setting surrounding the imposition of martial law, then finally describes a really stirring moment: A newscaster on Solidarity's first clandestine radio broadcast asks listeners to blink their houselights--and the whole city flickers momentarily. Episcopalian Swick joins the annual pilgrimage to the Black Madonna's shrine, a trek of 40,000 Catholics that brings an extraordinary sense of community, yet mars the story with sentiment and false drama. Although beautifully written with loving detail, Swick's portrait contains more lush literary atmosphere than substance or insight.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1991
ISBN: 0-395-58563-5
Page count: 286pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991