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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 3 September 2011
An incredibly honest depiction of life as an immigrant family, and an astonishingly accurate insight into Polish family structure. Close to my heart because it reminded me so much of my own family, but accessible to those who don't share that background. If you want to know more about real Poles, not just the stereo-type, this book will go some way to explaining their character and their fierce patriotism.

In brief, Babcia (Grandma in Polish) is living in Derby, England with her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren. She is confused by the English language, frustrated by the different world she finds herself in, and determined to be the centre of attention.
Wanda, the eldest grandchild, feels stifled by the traditions of her family and is unable to relate to the Polish way of life - she was born in England and wants to be English; as a result she leaves school and heads to London to carve out her own life.
Zosia is the middle grandchild and the apple of Babcia's eye. Fascinated by her Polish heritage, she is beautiful and intelligent and determined to be successful. Worshipped by Babcia and praised by all the adults she meets, the bullying she suffers from her peers is proving difficult to cope with.

There are many other characters in this rich story, (not least the eccentric and rather deranged Princess Maria), but it is mainly the story of these three women who capture the reader's heart. So much happens in this book it is almost impossible to write a synopsis, but it is more the interaction between characters that makes this book what it is, with the actual events serving as an interesting backdrop to facilitate the portrayal of the Polish mindset.
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on 3 July 2016
I've always had a great respect for the Polish people. Their contribution in World War II alone is a testament to that. Whether it be their early work in Intelligence (Bomba Kryptologiczna) or the defiance of the Polish pilots of the 303 Fighter Squadron who fought in the Battle of Britain.

However, after the recent EU Referendum result and the subsequent hostility shown towards immigrants, especially the British Polish community. I was a little saddened by their plight. I then remembered something about a Derby born author who had written a book which was set in Derby about Polish immigrants.

'The Black Madonna of Derby' is a really captivating read. Set in my home city of Derby, it is very easy to get drawn into the whole series of events which in places share many similar parallels with my own Punjabi upbringing and family history.

In the process of reading this book I have also learned a lot more about Polish history and their way of life.

Polish, Punjabi, Ukranian, whatever your roots. If you were born in Derby and have immigrant parents you will instantly relate to this wonderful story.

I look forward to reading the sequel 'Sweetest Enemy'.

Well Done Joanna Czechowska
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on 13 August 2008
This is a beautifully matter-of-fact story about a family of Polish descent living in England, a seemingly ordinary family with an extraordinary history. In a humorous, gentle and understated way it illustrates the subtle differences that family culture and traditions make. The author brings to life characters you can relate to and yet they are fascinating. The short chapters and the good pace keep you involved and wanting to know more. The truth unravels itself throughout the book and there are surprises! This is a story that would appeal to all readers. I recommend it!
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on 4 August 2009
As a second-generation Polish immigrant, this book may have been about my family- some of the characters could have been relatives from my own childhood; as were the Polish clubs of provincial 1960's/70's Britain, the Sunday Polish Masses in the local Catholic church and the need to be part of the "host" culture as young, alienated children of traumatized immigrants. The family story this depicts- secret suicides, war, unmentioned and unmentionable love affairs, death, tragedy, displacement and coming to terms with living in a totally alien and ignorant culture, were all elements of my own family history.
This is a very easy book to read, but with a very difficult subject matter- I found it almost impossible to put down- it's quite panaromic in terms of it's setting. Clever twists in the plot link scenes of 1970's Derby, (including that hot summer of 1976), the swinging London of the 1960's, pre-War Polish Aristocratic life, and the post-War bleak Soviet housing estates of Warsaw, together with sympathetic scenes of the beauty of the medieval centre of Krakow. Harowing at times, thought provoking and ultimately life-affirming, for me one of the books of the year.
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on 22 February 2009
The Black Madonna of Derby took me by surprise. Being set in Derby, I started to read a book about the town in which I live, but I could not put this novel down. I became so involved in the lives of these three generations of women with a Polish heritage/culture which - apart from the Polish element - so mirrored my own experiences of growing up in an ever-changing UK.
Written with a gentle humour, the characters spring to life. You can see them in your mind's eye struggling with their own problems.
I could relate their lives to those of my own maternal line, especially as it was set in the ever-changing 60's when young women felt more empowered than their mothers and grandmothers.
It could also be set in today's world, with other cultures being represented who are facing the same generation gap - between the *home country* and *birth country* causing friction within the home.
This is well worth a read, and the author could well turn her hand to a story about The Black Madonna itself, as I am sure she could weave any story around the history of this famous painting.
I await the next offering with anticipation and if that is also set in Derby, it would be a bonus!
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on 4 October 2008
It's a beautifully written story. Historical and
geographical facts are skillfully woven into one family's story in a
way that engaged me and kept me reading till the end. The characters
are compelling and so well sketched - I never lost interest.
> Reading about Babcia I was reminded of my childrens' Ukrainian
Baba, my husband's mother, who lived through so many hardships in
her life. When I knew her - in the late 1960s - she had been living
in Canada for more than fifty years, but she still conversed in
Ukrainian, hardly knew a few words of English. She never forgot her
homeland, which she described to my husband in glowing colours,
despite the fact that she emigrated to escape poverty and
discrimination.
> The book is well worth reading.
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on 30 December 2012
'The Black Madonna of Derby' by Joanna Czechowska

The title - wow! It signals exactly what this book is going to be about - Polish immigrants in the English Midlands. The thread of authenticity that runs through The Black Madonna is palpable. Joanna (as you would expect with a name like hers) has Polish blood - a Polish father and an English mother (according to her Amazon profile) and she is clearly writing about what she knows, not what she has researched. Those of us who attended school alongside many a Maria, Ewa, Helena and Evona will recognise the complicated lives of the Baran family: the suppressed and repressed memories of unspeakable happenings during the war; the sexing up of those memories; parents and grandparents who live in the past; and the feeling of not quite belonging.

The Black Madonna charts the story of three generations of a Polish family who fled Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War. Zosia falls in love with the romanticised version of Poland dished up by her grandmother, Barbara, whereas younger Janek stonewalls his Polish heritage, refusing to speak the language and embracing everything Anglo-Saxon. Wanda, the older sister, who first appears in the book as a child of the Sixties and a Paul McCartney groupie, runs through the gamut of emotions regarding her Polishness. This novel involves a huge number of characters in diverse situations, including Irina and family still living in Warsaw, and a wide variety of issues, from Beatlemania, (possible) racial bullying, under-age sex within the Church of England, forced labour under the Nazis and dissident activity under the Communists.

Pawel was an interesting character: on one level he was an unconvincing dissident, running off copies of 'Animal Farm' from a printing press in a secret location at one point then, several chapters on, defecting to the West - but what else could a disaffected Polish young man do in the 1970s? Joanna understands that, just as not every Frenchman/Frenchwoman during the Nazi Occupation was Resistant, citizens of East European Peoples' Republics weren't all Lech Walesa. However, I was surprised that the Gdansk Shipyard Strikes of 1970 didn't get a mention.

The fact that I have to think about the written style of the Black Madonna must be a good thing, because nothing detracted me from the tableau Joanna was revealing. I use the word 'tableau' advisedly, as there was no real plot-line, and a few loose ends. I felt that Wanda's transformation from Carnaby Street girl was bit sudden, even bearing in mind her various disappointments. I never really did understand why Zosia was being bullied. Was it because she was Polish or because she was pretty and clever? A nice touch, though, was her schoolmates shedding crocodile tears over her. There are occasional bursts of typically self-deprecating Polish humour, such as when Wanda is about to leave for London and her grandmother for Warsaw, and Wanda's mother suggests they celebrate the two events together. "Yes," says Wanda, "I'm sure my friends will want to attend a memorial mass."

'The Black Madonna of Derby', which ends when John Paul II is elected Pope in 1978, is the first book in a two part series. The second, 'The Sweetest Enemy' (which I haven't read yet) is about the Polish independent trade union, Solidarity. I did just open the first Kindle page, to see the heading 'Gdansk Shipyard, August 1980' and, having been there myself four years ago, this was another blow to the solar plexus. Wow again.The Black Madonna of Derby
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on 25 August 2015
I loved this book so much that, having started reading it a few days ago, I couldn't put it down last night and read till I finished it, at 3am.
It resonates with a life I married into, that of my husband's family and his Polish father who had come over to the UK just after the war.
This story portrays lives that are real, often uncomfortable and that don't necessarily have happy endings. It shows how the events of the past follow us into the future, how ever much we think we've put them behind us. That's what made it so compelling for me.
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on 18 January 2009
This book kept me entertained and at the same time it educated me in Polish culture and I enjoyed the scene changes between England and Poland. Information vital for a full understanding was included in a subtle, unobtrusive way. By far it was the characters who stood out due to their sympathetic and humorous portrayal by the author. I would certainly read another novel by this author be it a sequel or a story on a different topic.
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on 13 December 2014
An excellent story about a family overcoming difficulties going back a few generations from before the war to 1970s. It also covers how a past life can become romanticised and looking for the utopia of life, when reality happens it perhaps is not what has been imagined and things are not what they seem.
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