- Book: Home Is Nearby
- Location: Australia, Wroclaw (Breslau)
- Author: Magdalena McGuire
Have you ever considered a city break in Wrocław, formerly Breslau, in Poland? Pop it on your city break list, it has enough to keep you entertained for a long weekend!
Naturally I took a book that is mainly set in the city to read whilst I was there. Home is Nearby is set in the 1980s when Solidarnośc, headed by electrician Lech Wałęsa, was beginning to grow, as the Poles, living under Russian Communist rule, began to rebel against the oppressive regime. Reading the novel gave me an informed view of what I was experiencing in 2018, a reminder of much bleaker political and economic times: “No meat, no money, no dignity“, a city that was uniformly pigeon-coloured and colourless. A lack of fruit that was commonplace in those days – oranges, for example – were unavailable to most. That is hard to imagine today with the beautifully painted gingerbread houses that surround the main square and the vitality that is evident everywhere in this largely preserved (and in parts rebuilt) medieval city.
An attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, who was originally from Poland, was almost taken as a sign for Poles to ponder their position, governed as they were by their hard-line nation.
It was a time when toilet paper was in short supply and the Party newspaper, Tribune Ludu, served in its place – a fitting use as many Poles saw it. Lightbulbs were scarce and people would often steal ones in public spaces for their own use. Again, a stark contrast to the vibrant city one encounters today. In December 1981 martial law was imposed and it was the ordinary people who were the targets. That became a defining act by the government.
Ania Skowrońska decides to leave her father and rural village behind in order to study art and sculpture at the University of Wrocław. It is there that she meets Dominik a journalist and Małgorzata, a radical artist, members of a group of an avant garde artist community.
As martial rule is enforced, Ania finds she needs a permit to travel home to her Father from Wrocław; random arrests have started taking place… As art is suppressed and goes underground, Małgorzata holds an illicit exhibition in her apartment…life is changing and not for the better.
This is very much the story of students countering the iron hand of oppression, and as they take a stand, they are faced with life changing consequences.
Wrocław is a city that has been inventing and reinventing itself after wars and conquests and tragedies. Past lives are evident everywhere you go today. Passing St Elizabeth’s church I was reminded of parts of the story; at the Botanical Gardens (which we visited just near the Cathedral) I recalled a beating during curfew that happened to one of Ania’s friends.
“As the sun set behind the pillars of the gothic town hall, we walked across the city centre..” and I followed in their footsteps #onliterarylocation
The novel really set the context of the city’s recent history, history that happened in my own life time. A sobering read in many ways, made poignant by being in the city.