Monday, January 15, 2007

Mini-Review of “Poland” by James Michener

On this recent trip, I decided to read some books the themes of which fit the places I would be traveling to. So, for my time in England, I decided to read Dickens’ “Dombey and Son” (review to follow later). I had always intended to read Michener’s Poland,” and this seemed like an opportune time to do so. I was already very familiar with Michener’s work. Many years ago I plowed my way through “The Source.” I enjoy his Pulitzer Prize-winning work, “Tales of the South Pacific.” The Rogers and Hammerstein musical based on this book - "South Pacific”– is, in large measure, responsible for my love of musical theater.

Before reading Poland,” I had not been aware of the depth of Michener’s academic background, which included a stint teaching at Harvard. His erudition shows in Poland.” He spent several years touring every nook and cranny of this storied nation, so his knowledge of Polish history and culture was comprehensive as the background against which he set the action of this historical novel. Using an approach that he has used with several of his other epic works, he follows the fortune of several fictional and actual families, seamlessly blending historical fact with his vivid imagination, to tell a tale of a nation often conquered but never completely eradicated. The indomitable spirit of the Polish patriot that Michener so lovingly describes is one I encountered among many of the people I met on my recent visit to Krakow.

Michener’s writing is particularly moving and instructive in the section that deals with the events leading up to and encompassing World War II. His descriptions of the horrors of the camps and of the determination of the Nazis to wipe out Polish culture are haunting in their gruesome detail.

As I approached the end of this novel, I found myself wishing that Michener were still alive to write an updated version that would incorporate the significant events that had occurred in Poland in the past 20 years. Even though this work was published in the 1980’s, reading it in the 21st century has value. I recommend it to anyone who desires to develop a deeper understanding of this fascinating part of the world.



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