Memoir set mainly in Verona
Ten great books set in Warsaw
15th July 2021
Warsaw is the latest location for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in Warsaw…Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. The metropolis stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland and its population is officially estimated at 1.8 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 3.1 million residents. Warsaw is a major international tourist destination, and a significant cultural, political and economic hub. Its historic old town is a UNESCO world heritage site
‘When there is no more pierogi – Oh, wait. That never happens.’ – Polish saying
The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford
Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Janusz Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.
As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone. They can only hope to find each other again one day…
Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness.
Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak.
Saying Goodbye to Warsaw by Michael Cargill
Like any girl who is loved by her family, Abigail Nussbaum loves to chase butterflies, enjoys lying on her back looking for shapes in the clouds, and happily teaches young children to make daisy chains. In the eyes of certain people, however, Abigail has committed a heinous crime. The year is 1940: the place is Poland: Abigail happens to be Jewish. Along with half a million other Jews, Abigail and her family are evicted from their home and forced to live in the bombed out ruins of Warsaw, the Polish capital. Although a handful decide to fight back, is the uprising strong enough to save Abigail’s spirit?
Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
An Autumn evening in 1937. A German engineer arrives at the Warsaw railway station. Tonight, he will be with his Polish mistress; tomorrow, at a workers’ bar in the city’s factory district, he will meet with the military attaché from the French embassy. Information will be exchanged for money.
So begins THE SPIES OF WARSAW, with war coming to Europe, and French and German operatives locked in a life-and-death struggle on the espionage battlefield. At the French embassy, the new military attaché, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a decorated hero of the 1914 war, is drawn in to a world of abduction, betrayal and intrigue in the diplomatic salons and back alleys of Warsaw. At the same time, the handsome aristocrat finds himself in a passionate love affair with a Parisian woman of Polish heritage, a lawyer for the League of Nations.
Colonel Mercier must work in the shadows, amidst an extraordinary cast of venal and dangerous characters – Colonel Anton Vyborg of Polish military intelligence, last seen in Furst’s THE POLISH OFFICER; the mysterious and sophisticated Doctor Lapp, senior German Abwehr officer in Warsaw; Malka and Viktor Rozen, at work for the Russian secret service; and Mercier’s brutal and vindictive opponent, Major August Voss of SS counterintelligence. And there are many more, some known to Mercier as spies, some never to be revealed.
The Ghetto Fights: Warsaw 1943-45 by Marek Edelman
This remarkable memoir by Marek Edelman, member of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance five-person command team, tells first-hand of the struggle of Warsaw’s Jews against the Nazis in the spring of 1943. Features a new introduction by John Rose, author of The Myths of Zionism (Pluto, 2004).
I Saw A Beautiful Woodpecker: The Diary of a Young Boy at the Outbreak World War II by Michał Skibiński
It is the summer of 1939 in Warsaw, Poland and Michal is an eight-year-old boy just finishing his school year. In order to improve his handwriting, Michal’s teacher gives him a simple assignment: keep a journal, writing one sentence a day. Eighty years later, Michal’s diary has been gorgeously illustrated with beautifully atmospheric paintings. Eloquent in its simplicity, the journal is a remarkable artifact that captures the innocence of childhood and the trauma of war.
The journal starts out with a typical boy’s observations: “July 15: I went to a stream with my brother and teacher.” “July 23: I found a caterpillar.” However over the course of weeks, menacing details emerge. “July 27: A plane was circling over Anin.” “September 1: The war has begun.” “September 3: I hid from planes.” “September 14: Warsaw is bravely defending itself.” These haunting entries are interspersed with visits from relatives, a soccer game, a trip to a park, an ice cream cone. Photographs of pages from Michal’s diary enhance the poignancy of this simple record–an ordinary holiday interrupted by war; a life changed forever by an extraordinary moment in history.
The Doll by Boleslaw Prus
The Doll is a classic of Polish literature, a novel that takes in the whole nineteenth century and looks ahead to modern questions of empire, revolution, anti-Semitism, and socialism. Yet it is less a novel of ideas than a novel of people who have ideas, characters as vivid and memorable as any in Dickens. As the novel opens in Warsaw in 1878, our hero, Wokulski, having risen from rags to riches now seeks the respect of the aristocracy and, in particular, the love of the cold and scheming Izabela Lecka. The rich cast includes the old clerk Rzecki, nostalgic for the revolutions of 1848; the young scientist Ochocki, dreaming of flying machines; the deranged and manipulative Baroness Krzeszowska; the angelic widow Stawska; the wise dowager duchess; and many more. Each is constrained by his or her social status in this story of money, love, and class at the end of the age of duels and the beginning of the age of electricity. Boleslaw Prus’s great gift is to see this panorama on an intimate human scale, in the details of what people wear, what they eat, and, above all, what they say. We hear Wokulski’s story through all of Warsaw’s gossip, in the drawing rooms of the elite, in the restaurants and taverns of the middle class, at the races and the theater, and in the streets.
Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law by Michelle Granas
In Warsaw, a shy and high-minded polio victim lives a life of seclusion caring for her odd family until a chance encounter plunges her into the intrigues of dirty politics. Zaremba, a wealthy businessman, is about to be arrested on trumped-up charges and only she can save him. Swept along by events, Cordelia finds her feelings increasingly involved with a stranger for whom she is both rescuer and victim. When Zaremba disappears, Cordelia is painfully uncertain if she has been abandoned and must overcome surveillance, corruption, the media, and mounting humiliations and difficulties to learn the truth. Although set in Poland, this is a story that could happen anyplace, as young democracies struggle against the temptations of covert operations and older democracies sometimes lead them astray. Upbeat, humorous and serious by turns, Zaremba contains an intense but delicate romance, a universal moral about the abuse of power, and a vivid portrayal of a foreign country.
Entanglement by Zygmunt Miłoszewski
The morning oafter a gruelling group therapy session, Henry Talek is found dead, a roasting spit stuck in his eye. The case lands on the desk of Warsaw prosecutor Teodor Szacki. World-weary and suffering from bureaucratic exhaustion and marital ennui, Szacki feels that life has passed him by. But things are about to change, as his search for the killer unearths another murder that took place 20 years ago – before the fall of Communism. And why is the Secret Police taking such an intense interest in this particular case?
Nine by Andrzej Stasiuk
Pawel, a young Polish businessman, is in trouble; in debt to loan sharks his only hope lies with former friends, many of whom are now prominent in Warsaw’s drug-dealing underground. Embarking on a desperate fool’s-gold chase through the city’s grimy apartments and creaking transport system Pawel struggles for survival as part of a generation adrift in moral space and disconnected from family, neighbours and friends.
Nine is a brilliant novel from one of Europe’s finest writers: both an existential crime novel and a major work of literature.
Shosha by Isaac Bashevis Singer
It is Warsaw in the 1930s. Aaron Greidinger is an aspiring young writer and the son of a rabbi, who struggles to be true to his art when he is faced with the chance of riches and a passport to America. But as the Nazis threaten to invade Poland, Aaron rediscovers Shosha, his childhood sweetheart – still living on Krochmalna Street, still strangely childlike – who has been waiting for him all these years. In the face of unimaginable horror, he chooses to stay…
One of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s most personal works, Shosha is an unforgettable novel about conflicted desires, lost lives and the redemption of one man.
These are ten of our favourite books set in Warsaw. Are there any other that you would addd? Let us know in the Comments below…
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