VALEDICTORY by W. S. Kuniczak


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Kuniczak, who made something epic and stirring out of little-known Polish WW II history in The March (1979), does much less well with the similarly intriguing subject-matter here: the story of the RAF's Polish flyers--their triumphs and, later, their betrayal (along with Poland itself) by the Allies. The focus throughout, perhaps unwisely, is on a single Polish pilot-hero: Ludwig ""Ludo"" Toporski, a teenage WW I flyer who, now a squadron leader, is shot down during the brief, dreadful Germany/Poland air-battle of September 1939. Vowing ""never again to endure defeat,"" Ludo flees his shamed country, undergoes an ordeal/trek across Europe, flies for France till PÉtain surrenders, then hides out near the coast--where he meets and falls in lust with cynical, 40-ish Englishwoman Ann Hudson. (""They tore at each other with a savagery in which pain seemed to be the greater part of pleasure. . . ."") And though lust becomes love, Ludo and Ann separate, rejecting romance for contrasting idealistic/selfish reasons. In England, however, the lovers' paths will cross again and again--as Ludo begins flying for the RAF. . . while Ann, her cynicism coming unglued, does patriotic work (including acting as a sort of spy for a ruthless British minister, cultivating Anglo-Polish connections). The relationship remains heated yet unsteady, with arguments about Ludo's obsession with honor, war, the Polish heritage. Then, despite the acknowledged Polish role in the Battle of Britain, ""a dark rearrangement of forces began to take place; something malignant. . . began to seep across the Atlantic from America and to spread in England""--an anti-Polish campaign instigated by FDR, selling out to Stalin. So Ludo will become increasingly disillusioned, especially after the crash-death of Polish leader Sikorski (murdered by the Allies?); the Ann affair is doomed, with her attempted suicide the aftermath. And finally, banned from London's Victory Parade and determined to leave some memorial to USSR-overrun Poland, Ludo leads a ""valedictory flight"" over England--climaxed by his suicidal collision with a wayward German plane. (""By the incinerated balls of Adolf Hitler, let's give them something to remember."") Unfortunately, Kuniczak's attempt to parallel the Poland/ Allies relationship in the Ludo/Ann love affair is an earnest failure, bogged down in the verbose stewings of two symbolically tormented souls. The political history, too, is more strident than convincing--with many dubious details in the indictment of FDR. And, throughout, the tendency toward talkiness that slightly marred The March becomes a major liability. Disappointing, then, considering both Kuniczak's previous work and the Polish/RAF potential--but intermittently powerful, with special appeal to devotees of aviation-warfare.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday