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April 2006

Volume XXVI, No. 2

The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999, by Timothy Snyder. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003. Maps, notes, index. xv + 367 pages. ISBN 0-300-09569-4. Paper. $20.00 at

This is one book that should be kept next to Norman Davies’s works as a masterly tool in explicating non-Germanic Central and Eastern Europe. It details the postcommunist period as none of the currently-available histories of the region does. Very highly recommended.

Keeping Catholics in Their Place: The Boston Globe’s Cultural Imperialism, by Robert P. Largess. Milwaukee, WI: The Catholic League for Religions and Civil Rights, 1983. 75 pages. Paper.

This little book alleges that the Boston Globe, one of this nation’s most influential newspapers, has for years dismissed, belittled, passed over in silence, and ridiculed the achievements, beliefs, and lifestyle of persons of Catholic background in the Boston area. The thesis is bolstered by case studies. The book is two decades old, and a follow-up to its investigations would certainly be welcome. A friend of Sarmatian Review mentioned this book to us because it seemed to express opinions similar to those expressed in “Our Take” (SR, XXV:3, September 2005).

Urodzony z piołunów: o poezji Bogdana Czaykowskiego, by Božena Szałasta-Rogowska. Katowice-Toronto: Polski Fundusz Wydawniczy w Kanadzie (PO Box 173, Postal Station B, Toronto, Ontario M5T 2T3, Canada), 2005. 172 pages. Index, bibliography. ISBN 0-921724-45-4. In Polish.

The Vancouver-based poet and university professor Bogdan Czaykowski (b. 1932) is not much given to self-promotion, and it is therefore particularly gratifying to see a book about him written by a Polish doctoral student. The book does follow the format that a graduate student in Polish has to adopt, but within that format much insight is given into this poet who deals with the horrors of life with gentility and gentleness. Czaykowski’s poetry frequently invokes nature, both the breathtaking beauty of British Columbia and the poet’s native Ukraine from which his Polish family was deported to the labor camps of Soviet Russia. Eventually, in much-diminished numbers, Czaykowski’s family managed to leave Russia for Persia, and then the United Kingdom. How to deal with such a blood-soaked past has been a dilemma for many survivors. As evidenced by his poetry, Czaykowski rejected the accusations, bitterness, and complaints that one so often hears from survivors. He concentrated on the here and now, both in his professional life and in his poetry. This enabled him to return to the past later in life, and to do so without the attitude of “the world owes me a living.” The world has never offered Poles a living, no matter how much they suffered and what they went through. Szałasta-Rogowska’s book is testimony to the poet’s triumphal survival, to the resilience and power of the Polish language that so many Polish-born poets have chosen in exile (even though, in many cases, they had English at their disposal), and to the power of the human spirit that endures and proclaims instead of complaining and demanding attention. (sb)

(Mis)translation and (Mis)interpretation: Polish Literature in the Context of Cross-Cultural Communication, by Piotr Wilczek . Literary and Cultural Theory Series, vol. 22. Frankfurt-am-Main Peter Lang, 2005. ISSN 1434-0313, ISBN 3-631-54628-9. 164 pages. Bibliography. Paper.

We would have preferred no parentheses in the title.

Papers on sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and twentieth-century Polish literature, the Polish canon, and the obstacles to being assimilated abroad. Our favorite is “Jesuits in Poland according to A. F. Pollard”-not because its earlier version was previously published in Sarmatian Review, but because it illustrates a desperate ignorance about Polish culture that began to gather steam in the nineteenth century and came to full fruition in the twentieth. It still blossoms.

Średniowiecze, by Andrzej Dąbrówka. Warsaw: PWN (, 2005. 435 pages. Bibliography, index. ISBN 83-01-14430-0. Paper. In Polish.

A magisterial textbook on the Polish Middle Ages. It covers history, religious texts, literature, oral literature, and various aspects of medieval culture in Poland. A treasure trove indeed. One wishes for an English translation.

Literatura polskiego renesansu, by Piotr Wilczek. Katowice: University of Silesia Press (, 2005. Bibliography. 197 pages. ISBN 83-226-1492-6. Zl. 14.00. In Polish.

An accessible volume on the main aspects of the Polish Renaissance, its prevailing philosophy, education, art and architecture, and literary traditions. Includes chapters on the major writers: Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski, Mikołaj Rej, Jan Kochanowski, Łukasz Górnicki, Piotr Skarga, and others.

U stóp królewskiego Wawelu: Społeczność ukraińska w Krakowie w latach 1918-1939, by Tadeusz Filar. Kraków: Biblioteka Fundacji św. Włodzimierza, 2004. 262 pages. ISBN 8391575977. Paper. In Polish.

The front cover shows a Cossack street musician dressed in a traditional Cossack garb and playing a bandura in front of Saint Mary’s Church in Kraków. This picture corresponds to what is inside the book: the story of a vibrant and colorful minority in the land “close but foreign,” at a time when the Ukrainian people had no country of their own.

The twentieth-century Ukrainian diaspora in Kraków traced its history several centuries back to the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and its fate was tied to the fate of the Ukrainian minority in the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939). The author points out that before the Second World War Ukrainians formed almost a fifth of Poland’s population. He traces the history of Ukrainians in Poland from the rebirth of Poland following the end of the First World War through the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1918-1919, the Polish-Soviet War of 1918-1921, the Treaty of Riga (1921), the economic stabilization followed by the Great Depression, the May 1926 coup d’etat of Piłsudski and the rise of the Sanacja government, the Soviet communism “experiments” in the Ukrainian SSR, the tightening of the Polish government policies aiming at the integration of minorities into the mainstream Polish culture and the creation of a homogenous state, all the way to the rise of tensions, radicalization of Ukrainian political activists, Polish pacifications of Ukrainian villages and Ukrainian assassinations of Polish politicians. Kraków’s Ukrainian community is described by the author as a reflection of all Ukrainians in the Second Polish Republic. Filar highlights the attempts of many Poles and Ukrainians to stop the escalation of the Polish-Ukrainian conflict. These attempts are almost forgotten today, and it is good that the author reminds us of them. Contributions of people like the Kraków mayor Mikołaj Zyblikiewicz and Jagiellonian University professor Bohdan Łepkyj are examples.

Kraków is the former capital of the Polish Kingdom, and Ukrainians who lived there before the Second World War formed many civic institutions supporting their culture and providing sustenance for members of the Ukrainian community. Most of the Ukrainians came from the villages and small towns of Eastern Galicia, yet they actively participated in the life of the city, says the author.

The book ends with a brief note on the Polish September 1939 campaign in response to the German attack which started the Second World War. The author notes that the subsequent years are a difficult area of research, as they culminated in the mass deportations of Ukrainians from Poland in the Soviet-orchestrated “Wisła” Action. The “Wisła” Action, carried under NKVD directions and supervision, left little choice to either Poles or Ukrainians, and it put an end to the unique multicultural society that evolved during the centuries of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations (which ought to be renamed the Commonwealth of the Three Nations).

As the author admits, this first atempt to present a complete picture of the Ukrainian diaspora in Kraków at that time is not perfect, especially as the Polish sources seem to be more easlily available than the Ukrainian ones. However, the bibliography contains a significant number of non-Polish publications which, taken together with the author’s preface, are aimed at assuring the reader that all voices have been heard and given consideration. Filar’s book is the most comprehensive one so far on the Polish-Ukrainian relations before the Second World War. It is a good starting place for future studies of the subject. (Piotr Konieczny)

“The Polish American Family,” in Ethnic Families in America: Patterns and Variations edited by Charles H. Mindel et al . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988. 505 pages.

I found Ethnic Families in a Detroit-area used bookstore. The book provides an analysis of eighteen discrete ethnicities. As a third-generation scion of the American Polonia, I approached this chapter with keen interest and trepidation. My immigrant grandparents spoke only Polish, and I have witnessed our family’s progressive adaptation to mainstream American society. Chapter Two, “The Polish American Family,” was authored by Professor Helena Znaniecka Lopata of Chicago‘s Loyola University. Dr. Lopata’s essay begins with a historical background and goes on to explore the common themes in Polish American families over several generations. She manages to present her themes in a succinct yet enlightening way as she deals with the national character, status competition, organized Polonia, family life, the respective roles of men and women, later stages in life, and change and adaptation. She elucidated a number of our family‘s idiosyncratic foibles; e.g., her discussion of the okolica concept placed in context many identity issues my family members have ruminated on throughout their lives. The insular qualities of living within Polonian communities are properly presented. The presentation of such subjects as gender roles and their evolution within Polonia is objective and non-sentimental. Finally, the potential weakening or demise of Polish identification due to intermarriage and American societal assimilation are introduced and discussed. Altogether, the chapter provides excellent reading for those who wish to understand their Polishness and deepen awareness of their roots. It has enlarged my understanding of where we have been, who we are, and who we are becoming. (Cary M. Zdziebko Sheremet)

Gagarin Street: Poems, by Piotr Gwiazda. Washington, DC: Washington Writers’ Publishing House (PO Box 15271, Washington, DC 2003), 2005. ISBN 0-931846-80-3. Paper.

The book opens with a postcommunist nostalgia song sung from the safe perch of a job in the United States of America. Mercifully, the remainder amounts to only sixty-one pages of bad poetry.

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