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Thursday, April 25, 2013

“Full Circle: A Homecoming to Free Poland”, by Radosław Sikorski

288 pages, Simon & Schuster, ISBN-13: 978-0684811024

Full Circle: A Homecoming to Free Poland is a moving personal-and-political account of a country and its people emerging from under the rubble of Communism. For Sikorski, rebuilding a dworek (manor house) known as Chobielin was not just a real-estate investment – it was a literal and symbolic contribution to the task of rebuilding his country. With a novelist's eye for revealing detail and a politician’s instinct for the deeper currents running through society, Sikorski tells the dramatic story of his family: his childhood under Communism; his parent’s resistance to authoritarianism; his relatives on all sides of the political spectrum (including a great-uncle who survived Buchenwald and Dachau). At the same time, literally unearthing Polish history on the grounds of his home (one of his discoveries was a silver half grosz piece dating from the 16th Century) Sikorski also brings to life for American readers the dramatic history of Poland, where national identity has always been problematic.

An engrossing personal memoir, Full Circle is also a fascinating insider's account of the political transformation of a country that has come full circle many times over the years in its quest for a national identity, for in 1992 he was appointed deputy minister of defense, a job from which, amid so much controversy, he was forced to resign after only three months. Sikorski, originally a freelance journalist, sets out to establish his country's history going back to the 18th Century partition, his childhood under Communism (with annual trips to the West; he was not deprived), and through the exhilarating time of Solidarity. There are astonishing revelations about former president Walesa, who purportedly planned to buy nuclear warheads from the KGB (and cheat them of payment), and a tale of his refusal to entertain the visiting Margaret Thatcher, because he “[did] not receive failed politicians.” Can any of that be true? The Walesa presidential palace was like a beer hall, according to Sikorski, and the Solidarity politicians failed because of incompetence and graft. But the new crowd is no improvement, he bemoans, for the Communist collaborators are back in charge. Sikorski concludes that Poland is “busily building an Italy” but that, nevertheless, “life can be perfectly tolerable in a cleptocracy.”

All in all, If you are interested in the history of Poland, and want to learn about contemporary life in that country, but are tired of reading dry accounts written by someone without a real connection to the country and its people, this book is for you. I enjoyed the manner in which Mr. Sikorski provides both a personal and national history, woven together to keep the reader interested. I would have enjoyed more details about the actual reconstruction of his manor house. However, his insights into the post-Communist government, it strengths and weaknesses, and his accounts of involvement in the Solidarity movement were very interesting. I hope he writes another installment when he eventually finishes the manor house and the current Polish government has a chance to play out its role in Polish and world history.

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