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Poland's Daughter: How I Met Basia, Hitchhiked to Italy, and Learned About Love, War, and Exile Paperback – December 20, 2013
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"A great story, well told!" -- Dave Hogan on Amazon.com.
"A mesmerizing history!" -- Reality Check
From the Author
I met Basia when we were students together at the redbrick University of Manchester, in the dreary northwest of England. I knew something of her incredible story at that time, when we adventured to France and Italy, and I learned the rest of it more recently when we reconnected after fifty-five years.
In many ways, my life was the mirror image of hers. She started out as a member of an affluent Polish family that lost almost everything when the Russians occupied her home town -- her father and brother shot in the Katyn Forest massacres, and she, her sister, and their mother deported to Kazakhstan as "counter-revolutionaries." In time they escaped to Persia and eventually found safe haven in England, where Mama scrubbed floors for a living.
For my part, I started out in poverty during the Great Depression, and every year that went by brought an improvement in my fortunes and that of my country. This is the story of how two children grew up in the Second World War, how we met, and how we parted.
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I was delighted to discover Daniel Ford’s Poland’s Daughter. After 70 years, the memoirs of Polish deportation survivors, and historic treatises by multilingual writers, are appearing in increasing numbers, but no personal memoir about WWII Poland has engaged me in quite the way of Ford’s book.
Ford’s autobiography, written in an American idiom, has found the perfect formula to seduce Western audiences – those familiar with WWII Poland as well as those who know very little, or nothing, about the subject. And there is nothing dry or tedious about this book. Poland’s Daughter reads like a novel, and is, at once, a love story, a coming-of-age story, a wise, philosophical examination of “life led” and a journey of discovery – about self-identify, love, life and, of course, Poland. Read it, simply for the love-story, and discover with Ford the woman who was the object of his desire and how, incidentally and serendipitously (and over many years), Ford uncovers the story of WWII Poland. Only in hindsight does Ford truly appreciate the war story of his love – Basia Deszberg, and how the war shaped her and her family – and him. Through the Deszberg’s individual experiences of war, their family history, he personalizes the Polish experience of occupation and war.
“History happens to one person at a time. Of the 60 million who died in the course of the Second World War, each had a name, a past, work to finish, and hopes for the future.” In Ford’s estimation, among the casualties of war are not only the dead and wounded but the Polish survivors -- forever marked, in ways both good and bad, by their wartime lives. Basia is a linguist extraordinaire – thanks to her vagabond life as a deportee… in Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Persia, Italy, France, and England. Being the younger daughter of “Mama” her experience of Siberia (where along with thousands of other Poles she was deported by the Russians) is not that of her older sister or of her mother, and thus her sense of identity (of what it means to be Polish) is qualitatively different; she never fully shakes the feeling of being an outsider. The Poland of her youth is irreparably changed and she will never know the Poland of her parents’ and grandparents’ generation.
The book is not, by any means, just another war story, but a tale of two people growing up, a continent apart, and about how their lives unfold and intersect. It’s a coming of age story. Though only a generation or so removed, it’s evocative of a time that seems long past. “Does this seem impossibly innnocent…?” Ford asks. “In the movies Doris Day and Rock Hudson went to separate beds in ironed pajamas…” And so do Basia and Dan. Even when they share a room on their travels through Europe, they retire to separate beds.
Historians Norman Davies, Halik Kochanski, and Timothy Snyder are among the scholars cited in the narrative when Ford looks for answers to flesh out the personal narratives of the various members of the Deszberg family and to fit the anecdotes of his beloved Basia into the larger story of WWII -- from the distance of time. The mature Ford is astonished at the ignorance and self-absorption of his younger self. He looks at his youthful self with humor and whimsy. He recreates the world of his 20s – his struggles, achievements, naiveté, bravado, desire, insecurities, and joys. His older self is somewhat astonished. He notes “the war I had enjoyed as a youngster was regarded somewhat differently by Europeans”.
Ford speaks of his pre- and post-War life in America and juxtaposes his formative years with those of Basia. From the vantage of 60+ years, Daniel Ford and Basia Deszberg compare notes and share memories, each in their own voice, and often to the amusement of both. Time and temperament play havoc with their respective memories.
“… when we play games with the past, it is the present self who rolls the dice. We take our wisdom – which is to say: the intervening years – with us. But of course that can’t be. It wouldn’t be our young self that we take back to our own springtime, but the wiser and less interesting person we have become. We are given only the one life to lead. That life made us what we are today…” The war brought Dan and Basia together and…
Poland’s Daughter sets the record straight about WWII Poland in the context of a personal love story. The astonishing ignorance about WWII Poland in the Western world has given rise to many misconceptions and historic inaccuracies – from the invasions by Germany and Russia, the occupation and resistance, as well as Poland’s wartime contribution and the aftermath of the war. Read Poland’s Daughter and discover, as Ford did, a chapter of Poland’s story. And enjoy the pathos of this delightful love story.
The description of the low budget trip to Italy was, great fun. I traveled around New England for a couple years in the early 50's using my thumb and a school sticker on my suitcase. Dan's adventure, starting as a Fulbright Scholar in the UK, and then his impossibly romantic bumming around Europe with a fascinating young woman makes me think I was in too much of a hurry to grow up!
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Poland"s Daughter is another worthy example of the fine crafted books we have come to expect from...Read more