Shtetl

Hoffman, Eva. Shtetl: the Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

Reason read: in honor of Hannukah.

Inspired by a documentary Hoffman saw on Frontline, this is the biography of Bransk, a Polish town that no longer exists thanks to the thoroughness of the Nazis under Russian rule. One of the most difficult segments to read was the recounting of young Bransk boys conscripted into the Russian army. They were religiously converted away from their birthright and upon returning home, shunned by their own people.
As an aside, I am afraid of cult figures and the power they can wield over seemingly intelligent people. I was surprised to learn of a man in the 1750s by the name of Jakub Frank who claimed he was the Messiah. He wanted to rule all of Poland and had a strong sexual appetite for young girls and orgies.

Quotes to quote, “I believe that if we are to understand what happened in Poland during the war, we must begin by acknowledging, from within each memory, the terrible complexity of everyone’s circumstances and behavior” (p 6).

Author fact: Hoffman grew up in Cracow, Poland.

Book trivia: Shtetl was written after Hoffman saw a documentary by the same name of Frontline in 1996.

Nancy said: Pearl admires Hoffman’s writing and reads everything she publishes, but for the Challenge I am only reading Shtetl. Pearl would have bought Shtetl for someone exploring Jewish roots.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181) and from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).


Spies of Warsaw

First, Alan. Spies of Warsaw. New York: Random House, 2008.

Reason read: Furst was born in February; read in his honor.

The year is 1937 and German-born engineer, Edvard Uhl, finds himself caught up in smuggling German industrial plans relating to armament and arms. Like joining a gang, Edvard is drawn deeper and deeper into the fold. The tightening entanglement causes Uhl to become more and more paranoid about being exposed. But how to get out? This is how The Spies of Warsaw begins but it is not about Edvard. He is just a pawn; one little cog in the world of espionage. The real protagonist is Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, military attaché to the French Embassy. War is eminent and the stakes couldn’t be higher in the struggle for intel. Mercier, familiar with war as a decorated 1914 veteran, must make his moves carefully. One never knows who is counterintelligence and who is an ally. Who is a betrayer? In the midst of the political drama, Furst gives Mercier a love interest. Anna’s role is not to lighten the story but to add another layer of tension and mystery. While the book only covers seven months before World War II, the shadowy sense of place is heavy across Poland, Germany, and France.
As an aside, I particularly liked the train scenes: travelers waiting on the platform with the falling snow and paranoia circling in equal amounts.

Author fact: Furst has been compared to John le Carre.

Book trivia: Spies of Warsaw was made into a television drama for the BBC

Nancy said: Pearl said Furst’s novels are “great for their splendid sense of place – World War II Eastern Europe” (p 183).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181).


New and Collected Poems

Milosz, Czeslaw. New and Collected Poems (1931 – 2001). New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Reason read: March is National Poetry Month in some parts of the world. Stay tuned because April is also a poetry month…in some parts of the world.

Milosz’s poetry touches on a myriad of topics. There are echoes of childhood, listening to a mother softly climb the shadowy stairs or watching a father quietly read in the library. There are a series of poems that lovingly describe a house and its inhabitants. Linked poetry that are meant to be read hand in hand with the next.
Confessional: I did not get through the entire collection. I could have kept the book through April since April is also a month for poetry, but I opted not to.

Favorite quote, “Love is sand swallowed by parched lips” (from Hymn, page 13).

Author fact: Milosz was a Polish cultural attache in France. As an aside, whenever I think of a cultural attache I think of Robin Williams in the movie, The Birdcage. I can’t help it.

Book trivia: New and Collected Poems celebrates the career of Milosz, including the very first poem he wrote at age twenty. I think it would have been cool to include angst-ridden/written poetry from when Milosz was a teenager, because you know he must have written some!

Nancy said: Nancy said Milosz’s New and Collected Poems was a “splendid introduction to those who don’t know his work” (p 187).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Polish Poetry and Prose” (p 187).