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October 07 , 2007

A Warsaw Diary. 1978-1981


Over the past few years innumerable books have been written about contemporary Poland; yet even the best of them have been essentially journalistic works, written by sympathetic outsiders and doomed to be quickly overtaken by events. A Warsaw Diary is a very different kind of book: subtle, profound, a work of outstanding – and permanent – literary merit by one of Poland’s foremost writers. Denounced on Polish television after the imposition of martial law as a subversive document – possession of which carried an automatic prison sentence of up to ten years – it is at once a powerful, wide-ranging personal memoir, and the first eye-witness account of the momentous events of 1978-81 to set them in their historical and political context, subtly alternating between present-day Poland and her melancholy, overshadowed history and literary or philosophical reflections on the Polish character and temperament. Whether he is discussing the role of the Church, continuing anti-Semitism, the German occupation or the Stalinist years, or describing with a novelist’s eye the drab, interminable queues in a Warsaw street or thugs breaking up the dissident ‘Flying University’, Brandys’s Diary is a unique, compelling account of the Polish spirit and the Polish dilemma.
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