Monday, 8 October 2007

Page Turners: When god looked the other way

Last week, our Page Turners reading group discussed the memoir, When god looked the other way, by Wesley Adamczyk. This described 10 years in the life of a Polish child, deported with his family (minus his father) from Poland at the beginning of WW2 to the backblocks of Kazakhstan. After spending a few years there, he and his family escaped during the evacuation to Iran, then moved through Lebanon and England before he migrated to family in America at the age of 17, 10 years after it all started.

I knew a lot less than I realised about these events, and this compelling account illuminated much about Soviet communism and propaganda. It is so very difficult to comprehend the life these people led -- not only the poor upper class Poles, dragged away from their comfortable lives, but also the average Soviet peasant. They lived in such squalor, and they starved during the winter, and they had so little freedom.

As bad as this was (and the book gave rather graphic accounts, as from a child's perspective), I found the ensuing years, once they left Kazakhstan, even more distressing. To think that so many people could not return home, despite having been freed. They still had to live in camps and barracks out of necessity, or join the Polish army to fight with the Allies. And then to survive the war to have Poland given over to the Soviets must have been heartbreaking.

The book is written in a very easy style, and is not heavy to read -- probably a good thing. Much of it is centred around the 'mystery' of what happened to their father, who as a POW was murdered by the Soviets in the Katyn massacre. The author states that he could not have written his account were it not for a Katyn memorial service that he attended in the Ukraine, once the Russian government finally admitted guilt for the massacre. Evidently this brought all his memories tumbling forth as he received the closure he craved.

It's definitely worth a read, all the details about bodily functions notwithstanding!

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