Posted by: Ele Quigan | May 11, 2010

‘Poland’ James Michener

I’ve read a few historical novels following several family generations.  ‘Sarum’ and ‘London’ (which I should really read again now that I’m there) by Edward Rutherfurd, ‘Pilars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett…

Epic in their nature, with complex plots and sometimes thousands of pages, they offer an interesting view of key periods in history, obviously written in a way to make significant events more relevant and I guess easily understood to a fiction-loving audience.

To be honest, before I even started, I should have known what to expect – however the novel was an almost impulse buy of the most fabulous little bookshop that I have been to – Bona bookshop Ul. Kanonicka, Krakow. Opposite Mary Magdalene Square.

Imagine a freezing January (winter – not the hot NZ January summer), snow drifts everywhere, cold winds, short days, woolly hats and gloves, layers and red cold noses – and the wonder of walking into a warm bookstore/cafe that was not only warm, full of couches and also served rich, creamy, authentic hot chocolate.

The greatest hot chocolate I have ever had...

It was so glorious we went back twice.

In this great store was an english section where I picked up a few books to take home, one of which was the Poland novel.

Standard historical fiction really, families, the wealthy sleeping with the servants, children out of wedlock, warfare, intrigue, manipulation – it’s in there!

I found it a bit difficult to trawl through a lot of the middle part of the novel, and it wasn’t until the last chapter I started to realise the significance of Polish history, and that they have had to rebuild as a country so many times – from being almost wiped off the map by various neighbours.   It also interestingly, made me even more aware about how precarious our current political situation is, and how little we almost have to fear from our neighbours at this point in time (or that could of course be the ignorant kiwi coming out in me, who doesn’t think Auckland is really a target for a nuclear weapon originating from Iran…)

It’s worth perservering with the novel to get an understanding of his complex country, having been there it definitely made some of the quirkiness and also the inherent pride of the people make a lot more sense.

And of course amazing that so much of the old Poland still stands…

Not incredibly historically accurate (these books never are) you still get a sense of the time during the various chapters.  It ends during 1981 – it would be interesting to read a follow up chapter taking it through to present day – post the fall of the Berlin wall and collapse of the USSR.

Not sure if it’s a book I’ll read again, but interesting none the less.



  1. I wonder if we’ll find hot chocolate that good in London. So far, no good.

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