I read this avidly, after enjoying "Black Madonna" so much. Basically, this is again a real "page turner". Like "Black Madonna" very easy to read, with short chapters. I did find the dialogue a bit "wooden" at times, and initially was not so sure how a sub-plot involving a new writer writing "pulp fiction" novels was supposed to fit in, but it did! In some ways, the book is an odd mix of soap opera set in a provincial English city- various adults having affairs with each other, marital breakups etc, but then also set in the context of the political background of 1980's Thatcherism and the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland. Some interesting observations on the merits or otherwise of how this movement could be regarded, especially when compared to Thatcherism. The characters are finely and clearly drawn. The book's real interest for me was it's take on the importance of family history and national and cultural identity; how the past is always here in the present and even in the future; the long term effects of war and displacement on future generations. Readers of "Black Madonna" might be heartened to hear that while this sequel shares the first book's sense of poignancy, it does not have it's harrowing last few chapters, and in fact is very up-lifting and, again, as in "Black Madonna," is very life-affirming. Possibly a must for all second and third generation Poles born and raised in this country!
Sweetest EnemyWhereas the title of `The Black Madonna of Derby' was bang on the nail, I finished reading `Sweetest Enemy' still wondering who the `Sweetest Enemy' was. As the story started in the Gdansk Shipyards, in the middle of the 1980 Shipyard Strikes, was it Solidarnosc, an organisation which is quite capable of becoming its own worst enemy, as it did in the latter part of 1981 and in the mid-1990s? But, as this book only touches briefly on Solidarnosc, this is unlikely. On reflection, this reader believes that the oh-so-sweet enemy was Poland itself, which, having already devoured Zosia, consumes Helena as she searches for her Jewish uncle by marriage, Nathan. It even affects down-to-earth Wanda who comments that her Polish Catholic upbringing prompts her to genuflect as she reaches the end of the row of seats in the cinema.
This sequel continues the story of the Baran family in England, with occasional scenes in Poland, taking us up to the overthrow of the Communist regime. Maybe it is because, having read the Black Madonna, I am thoroughly familiar with the characters, but I feel that in this second book they mellow. The saddest happening was the death of husband and father, Tadek, a grounded and under-stated saint in a family of prima donnas (except Wanda). I become even more fond of the mature Wanda, who moves firmly into the mc role, and Anna - every mother's dream daughter - who floats through the life Zosia should have had but didn't. Wanda and Pawel's marriage (in the last book) was not made in heaven, but her last words, as she receives birthday invitations from her husband and Bronek (the man she ought to have married) is that life is good. No Anna Karenina, Wanda is too real for drama and tragedy.
Aleks (Pawel's errant father) is the most significant new character, a charming wheeler-dealer, who, amongst other things, dips his hand into Solidarnosc's donations. They never rumble him, but, despite his dramatic escape in Bronek's car boot in December 1981, with Jaruzelski's soldiers hard on his heels, Poland consumes him too. Some of the most insightful passages in `Sweetest Enemy' feature political discussions between real Poles Aleks and Pawel, Bronek (who has lived in Warsaw for several years) and the British champagne revolutionary Roger Elliott, concerning who is on what side: Margaret Thatcher against Arthur Scargill; the British trade union movement not supporting Solidarnosc because they instinctively align themselves with the Communist government; Mrs Thatcher talking up Solidarnosc; Pawel saying the British police are right to confront the striking miners.
Like the `Black Madonna', the plotline is complicated and meandering - you might say, character-driven. One plot-thread which is not followed up is Wanda seeing hallucinations of her late sister, Zosia, and Helena finding a link with schizophrenia in the family. Zosia's appearances stop suddenly in Irena's flat in Warsaw where Zosia died: had Wanda laid the ghost? This is not clear.
However, Dear Reader, `Sweetest Enemy' held this reader's attention for the two days it took me to read it. Was it an easy read? Yes, if you're interested in the history of the latter part of the twentieth century, but a younger person may need some explanatory footnotes. Do I recommend it? Yes, but I would definitely suggest you read `The Black Madonna of Derby' first.
'Sweetest Enemy' is the second book by Joanna Czechowska, which describes the story of the Polish family (Rodziny Baranów) who settled down in the UK after the Second World War. This time, Joanna described the 1980s and 1990s: how the social changes in Poland (the raise and evolution of the "Solidarność") did influence lives of British Poles. In a gentle way Czechowska is speaking about problems like double identity, alienation, sense of disaccord, loneliness. It is a thought-provoking novel, forcing the reader to formulate conclusions. The story is told with a nice, easy to read language. Moreover, it uncovers the Polish mentality and attitudes without judging. If one enjoyed reading 'The Black Madonna of Derby', this book is a must-read then. However, if one is not familiar with Czechowska's writing, then it is time to change it. Recommending with both hands. A great idea for a Christmas gift.
I enjoyed this as a holiday read. Wonderfully unfolding histories of main characters... in the background historic events taking place. Some real historical persons brought to the story - like the famous painter from Derby. Wonderfully told stories of the Polish and not only families, with just enough detail where necessary and silence of such when events are self explanatory. The only distraction for me were the occasional editorial 'mishaps', for instance 'learning' instead of 'leaning' or 'I don't to want to'. Thankfully this was only occasional. Overall a great read and I can't wait for the next sequel...!
A wonderful follow on from 'The Black Madonna of Derby". Once again, we are drawn into the lives of a Polish immigrant family living in the Midlands, and once again the characters are so richly and clearly portrayed that the reader can't help but relate to them and feel as though you must know them personally. The story line is gripping, so that combined with the wonderful characters this book becomes like a friend that you can't wait to read more about, and that you miss when you've finished. I'd highly recommend reading this book, thoroughly enjoyable!