In the summer of 2006, I made a trip to Poland. We were quite a party: Hanna, my Polish mother-in-law, aged 80; two sisters-in-law, one brother-in-law (Turkish), my nephew and my son. The journey was important for three reasons. This was the first time that Hanna had set foot on Polish soil since she was marched out of Warsaw in 1944. A teenage resistance fighter, she had taken part in the Warsaw Rising, when her brother Marek was shot and killed by a Nazi sniper as he ran across the street to save a friend. Second, I was revisiting a country last seen in 1979, ten years before the fall of Communism, when Marek, my husband, named after that lost brother, had taken me to see the mythical places of courage and heroism which had fed the stories of his childhood. Finally, and most sadly, we were making this journey to mark the first anniversary of his death: taking his ashes to scatter on Polish soil, as he had wished. Some years earlier, through the Red Cross, Hanna had traced a long-lost half-sister and brother, who had believed her killed in the war. When this joyful contact was effected, Marek had said he would take her to Poland to meet them. Now, we were taking him.
Before we set out, I had gone through the shelves in his study, and from the volumes of Polish history, memoirs and fiction I chose as my travelling companion The Polish House: An Intimate History of Poland by Radek Sikorski. Published in 1997, it frames huge pieces of history – the war, the post-war Communist era and the dramatic birth, in 1980, of Solidarity – through the loving reconstruction of a ruined Polish manor: an apt symbol of the rebuilding of a country which for centuries had been invaded, divided, reunited and torn apart once more. The last division was in 1939, when the Nazi-Soviet Pact offered different kinds of terror, east and west. In the flowering of Solidarity, the whole world watched as Church and workers united
to bring about the end of decades of Soviet oppression.
As a young man, Radek Sikorski played an active part in this drama, subsequently seeking political asylum in Britain, where he began his career as a journalist. Now, in this book, he was
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