I’ve started so I’ll finish. When I choose a book, I normally follow Magnus Magnusson’s advice, but I couldn’t for The Girl from Kraków. About modern history, east European modern history to boot, it should’ve been right up my street, but it isn’t. Dear Reader, it was grim. Yes, you would say. What do you expect in a novel about Poland in the Second World War? Things were grim. Yes, I know they were, DR.
I cannot fault Alex Rosenberg’s thorough, wide-ranging and detailed historical research. Factually, I learned a lot, about conditions throughout Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly about the Polish Home Army, a shadowy subject, because the Soviets tried to deny its existence for decades. The scope of Rosenberg’s book is simply enormous: by 60%, we had visited Poland and France in the interwar years, the Spanish Civil War, Poland under the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, and afterwards when the Germans overran the whole of Poland, Moscow during the war and the Warsaw Ghetto. We also passed through a Schindler’s List type factory and touched upon the Enigma Code. In truth, one of the problems is that its scope is too huge and disorientating. I also cannot fault Rosenberg on his analysis of soctal attitudes; he wrote that most Poles would not actively seek to betray Jews but, apart from a few notable exceptions, they wouldn’t inconvenience themselves too much to support them either. I feel that Rosenberg would have been better writing a non-fiction work on Poland during the war.
So why didn’t I continue reading The Girl from Kraków? Firstly, its unrelenting grimness, DR. Even Dickens, who covered some really edgy stuff, understood how much grief his reader could take. The Poles make jokes of even the worst things, but this is not evident in this book. Secondly, I couldn’t warm to any of the characters, because none of them seem to have any sort of moral compass. For the first part of the book, Rita is negative about everything, except for sex, for which she is voracious. Tadeusz is a shirker, a chancer and a fraud, who strikes lucky every time. Urs is boring. Erich is full of himself. I can’t like anybody. Thirdly, it is way too long – 454 pages, apparently, but it felt like many more. Fourthly, maybe it was just not my sort of thing. It’s had lots of rave reviews, so maybe I’m missing something. The Girl from Kraków is available on Amazon, although it is officially published by Lake House.
I’ve just spent an amazing weekend on the Association of Christian Writers committee retreat, with ten amazing people. Haven’t we got some amazing comps lined up for you! Not all of them restricted to members only, either. And three more Writers’ Days, one quite soon in Bath, on 12 March, one in July and one more in London in October. For more info, visit the ACW website.
At 11 o’clock last night, I was helping Wendy H Jones to sort out Twitter, and, Dear Reader, I actually saw part of the next Shona McKenzie novel in progress, on the screen in Word. Wendy tells me she went on writing it, past midnight, because she couldn’t sleep and all weekend she kept saying dead bodies. Now Wendy is an author who understands when and how to turn the grief on and off, so that her readers can actually finish her books. Wendy writes crime fiction, Alex Rosenberg literary/historical fiction. When I was a child, I believed that, if a book was boring and stodgy, it was literature, and, if it was enjoyable, not. Do I need to revise that opinion?
I was hoping to include some nice jolly pictures of Kraków at the end but, I’m still working on the iPad, so I can’t access my photos. Am I bad (blogger)?