Poland: A Novel

Poland: A Novel


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In this sweeping novel, James A. Michener chronicles eight tumultuous centuries as three Polish families live out their destinies. The Counts Lubonski, the petty nobles Bukowksi, and the peasants Buk are at some times fiercely united, at others tragically divided. With an inspiring tradition of resistance to brutal invaders, from the barbarians to the Nazis, and a heritage of pride that burns through eras of romantic passion and courageous solidarity, their common story reaches a breathtaking culmination in the historic showdown between the ruthless Communists and rebellious farmers of the modern age. Like the heroic land that is its subject, Poland teems with vivid events, unforgettable characters, and the unfolding drama of an entire nation.
Praise for Poland
“Engrossing . . . a page-turner in the grand Michener tradition.”The Washington Post
“A Michener epic is far more than a bedtime reader, it’s an experience. Poland is a monumental effort, a magnificent guide to a better understanding of the country’s tribulations.”Chicago Tribune
“Stunning . . . an unmatched overview of Polish history . . . The families themselves come very much alive, and through them, Poland itself.”USA Today
“A titanic documentary novel.”The Wall Street Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812986709
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 688
Sales rank: 79,107
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

James A. Michener was one of the world’s most popular writers, the author of more than forty books of fiction and nonfiction, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Tales of the South Pacific, the bestselling novels The Source, Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake, Centennial, Texas, Caribbean, and Caravans, and the memoir The World Is My Home. Michener served on the advisory council to NASA and the International Broadcast Board, which oversees the Voice of America. Among dozens of awards and honors, he received America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977, and an award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 1983 for his commitment to art in America. Michener died in 1997 at the age of ninety.

Date of Birth:

February 3, 1907

Date of Death:

October 16, 1997

Place of Death:

Austin, Texas


B.A. in English and history (summa cum laude), Swarthmore College, 1929; A.M., University of Northern Colorado, 1937.

Read an Excerpt

In a small Polish farm community, during the fall planting season of 1981, events occurred which electrified the world, sending reverberations of magnitude to capitals as diverse as Washington, Peking and especially Moscow.
This village of Bukowo, 763 souls, stood at the spot where the great river Vistula turns to the north in its stately passage from its birthplace in the Carpathian Mountains at the south to its destiny in the Baltic Sea at the north. In the little settlement there was a stone castle erected in A.D. 914 as a guard against marauders from the east, but this had been destroyed in the early years when those marauders arrived in stupefying force. Each subsequent owner of the village had planned at one time or other either to tear down the ruins or rebuild them, but none had done so because the old castle exercised a spell on all who saw it, and there was a legend among the villagers that so long as their ruined tower stood, they would stand. There must have been some truth to this because there had often been great clamor in Bukowo, but like its doomed tower, it still stood.
Nearly thirty-six million Poles, of whom eighteen million were of voting age, were controlled by the Communist party of only three million members. This minority had made a symbolic concession right at the start of the present trouble. They agreed to hold the discussions over farm policy in the very village from which the principal protester came, and this was interpreted by all as a sincere gesture of good will, but as Janko Buk, the leader they were trying to placate, said: “With the steel strikers giving them so much trouble in Gdansk, they can’t afford to have us on their backs, too.”
The Communists had chosen this village for several additional reasons. It lay in the heart of a large agricultural district and was thus representative. It was also well removed from any big city whose practiced agitators might try to influence or even disrupt proceedings. And perhaps most important, it was near the recently renovated Bukowski palace, with its seventy rooms available for meetings of whatever size might be required.
The three names—Buk for the peasant leader of the troubles, Bukowo for his village, and Bukowski for the family which had once owned the palace—obviously stemmed from the same root, the strong word buk signifying beech tree, and this was appropriate because from time past remembering, the vast area east of the river had contained a large forest whose principal trees had been oaks, pines, ash, maples and especially beech, those tall, heavy trees with excellent trunks. Through the centuries foresters had selectively cut these trees, sometimes floating the great trunks all the way to the Baltic for shipment to Hamburg and Antwerp, but all the woodsmen had carefully tended a particularly noble stand of beech that defined the eastern edge of the village. Like the castle which they resembled, the beeches of Bukowo possessed a special grace.
The great forest of which they formed such a major part had not borne a name until A.D. 888, when the extremely primitive people who lived between it and the river were frightened by a semi-madman who lived amongst them. He claimed that one evening while returning home with a bundle of faggots collected from under the beech trees, he had been accosted by the devil, who wore about his neck long chains which clinked and clanged, and he convinced them, especially the children, that if they listened closely when the devil was afoot, they could hear the rattling chains.
The dense woods was named the Forest of Szczek in that long-ago year, and everyone agreed that the name was well chosen, for clinking, clanging sounds did often come from this forest, and since in Polish the letter e—if printed with an accent, ę—carries an n sound, the word was pronounced shtchenk, which resembles the sound that a chain clinking would make.
The villagers protected the ruins of their good-luck castle and tended the beech trees they loved, but they were proudest of their palace. It had been assembled in rambling style over many centuries by the poor Bukowskis, who had been little better than peasants themselves although acknowledged as petty nobles, and in grand style by the Bukowskis of 1896, who had stumbled upon a fortune.
The palace stood on a slight rise overlooking the castle ruins and the Vistula beyond and was a place of real magnificence, the equal of the lesser French châteaux along the Loire. Shaped like a two-story capital U, the open part with its two protruding wings facing west, its long major base faced east, overlooking the village and the forest beyond. It had been heavily damaged in the closing days of World War II during the German defeat and the Russian victory, but its many rooms had been rebuilt in the 1950s and now functioned as a museum, a rest home for Communist party VIPs and a meeting place for major convocations. A good chauffeur could drive from Warsaw in something under four hours and from Krakow in less than three, so that when government officials selected Bukowo as the site for this important conference they knew what they were doing. Anyone who had visited the Bukowski palace once wanted to do so again.
A major charm of the setting was the village which perched at the edge of the forest. Even before the rude castle had been built or the forest named, a few hovels had collected here, and in the more than a thousand years which had followed, the number had constantly but slowly increased, with the addition of one or two new cottages every fifty years. Improvements came slowly, for the petty nobles who occupied the more permanent buildings that would evolve into the palace cared little about what happened to their peasants. Over a space of eight hundred years no cottage in Bukowo had other than a dirt floor. For nine hundred years none had a chimney, none had windows, and some cottages had passed a hundred years without acquiring a permanent door.
Yet improvements did slowly filter in, a wooden roof to replace a thatch, a slab of precious glass for a rude window, so that in time an attractive collection of harmonious, low, modestly colored cottages grouped themselves artistically about the three sides of a trim central rectangle. As with the palace, the open end faced the Vistula, with the backs of the cottages abutting against the grove of beech trees. Peasants who were born and raised in Bukowo preferred it to any other villages they knew, but this was a limited endorsement because many would have had an opportunity to see only those few that were within a dozen miles. Beyond that perimeter the villagers rarely moved.
That was Bukowo: primeval forest to the east, a splendid grove of beech trees, a snug village, a handsome palace, ancient castle ruins and, dominating everything, the majesty of the Vistula. Here was where the most advanced theories of the contemporary world would do battle.
Sessions would be held in one of the many medium-sized rooms on the upper floor of the palace, and there were six widely recognized clues by which those attending would be able to determine the importance of their meeting. In Communist Poland if guests invited to a formal discussion were of trivial position, only tea was served, in plain cups and from a plain pot. Guests slightly more important saw with gratification that the teacups were placed on a lace doily. Those of medium power sometimes gasped with pleasure when bottles of a delicious black-currant cordial called sok (juice) were to be provided, but one did not wield real power until the fourth level was reached: all the preceding plus a bottle of really good brandy.
If the visitors held truly high office, a plate of cookies would be added, delicious things wafer-thin and decorated with sugared designs, but if the official being honored held a cabinet position, or comparable rank in the army or church, or if he was a cinema star or a leading editor, a sixth mark of honor could be reached. In addition to the five customary degrees—tea to cookies—a final one appeared: actual sandwiches, made of the best bread, with thick butter and tangy cheese, or ham, or spiced chicken. Persons attending a meeting where all this was offered did not require medieval trumpets or modern cannon salutes; they knew they came with honors.
For the meeting of the agricultural consultants, sandwiches were prepared and a chocolate cake.
The Communist representatives reached the palace first, and custodians showed them to their rooms; with so many to choose from, it was easy to get one overlooking the castle to the south and the river to the west. Clerks and research assistants received rooms looking toward the beech trees, and some deemed these preferable, for the Forest of Szczek was in its own way as beautiful as the river.
The arrival of the cabinet minister occasioned a good deal of merriment, for his name was Szymon Bukowski, and everyone joked: “It’s nice to be in your palace,” and he had fun explaining that the Bukowskis who had owned this showplace were not from his Bukowskis, but nevertheless everyone kept calling it his palace.

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Poland 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I cannot think of a book that I have read in the past which engrossed me so thoroughly! From the minute I picked it up I couldn't help but donate all my free time to reading it. What I found predominately set this book apart from others was it's ability to not only tell the history of Poland, but relate the history of the entire European continent, and all it's countries through just it's most eastern one, Poland. I was extremely impressed with how Michener was able to display the the history of this country accurately, through ficticous families. This method puts you inside the history and makes you part of it. His ability to not get "stuck" on politically popular points in history (such as not focusing entirely on the holocaust, or Russian occupation) and keeping it as an "indepth overview", so to speak, of the nations history is what kept me reading. I reccomend it to all who have a passion for history. This is not just a historically accurate depicition of Poland, it was quite possibly the best, and most entertaining source of historical information I have ever come across.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From Genghis Khan's Mongol-Tatar invasions to Lech Walesa's solidarity movement, the novel intertwines historical figures and facts with a fictional tale of three Polish families - counts, minor nobles, and peasants. Poland's fascinating history comes alive and an understanding of its people emerges. Na zdrowie! (Cheers!)
Saivute More than 1 year ago
Definitely highly recommended book, Michener provides an unforgettable image about Poland's glorious past. Though not always accurate in historical details, you will enjoy reading every page of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a German Studies major at Columbia University, I am always on the look out for Poland and its relationship of same. I love this book--fictional as it is. The research is tremendous and the story telling audacious. Mixed with dialogue, Michener brings the terrible tragedies of Poland to the fore. I highly recommend the book.
Rembrandt2 More than 1 year ago
Great insight into Polish and Jewish peoples and how the Nazis and others imposed the most cruel genocide in human history.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Typical Michener novel, with Poland is the subject.
ex_ottoyuhr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michener's characterization and human interest are never very good, but his gimmick is history, and _that_ he does well. I learned more about Eastern European history from this novel and subsequent research along its lines than I have from any other source. It is astonishing that one can make it through American high school (or even college!) without once hearing about the Siege of Vienna...
mielniczuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sometimes fiction gives a better sense of reality than history. This novel helped me understand the sources of national pride and ongoing tensions in the country of my parents.
fuzzy_patters on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For whatever reason, I just could not get into this one. Michener's writing style seemed overly detailed to the point that the book became dry. I read the first 150 pages or so before I gave up on it, and it is not because I do not like history. I majored in history in college. I simply did not find this to be a very well written novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quite simply, the absolute best historical fiction book I have ever read. The only fiction book I have ever read cover-to-cover four separate times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unless you have really good eyes do not buy this paperback! The print is jammed into each page and is too small to read. The book should have been made a little bigger so the print was not so small. I had to return the book. I am starting to see this in more and more books...Check before you buy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
J. A. Michener's Poland , paperback page 65 reads as follows: ...Teutonic Knights who crept out of Germany to occupy the Baltic seacoast- which should normally have been part of Poland-acted under the Pope... Fact: Tacitus in 98 AD states in the Germania- that the Suebi - Goths - Aesti (Prussi) live at the Mare Suebicum in Germania. Fact: Before the birth of Christ and Ptolemy ca 150 AD described Magna Germania and the Goths at the Vistula river with the West Baltic Galinder and Sudauer Borusci-Prussi to the east(Aesti). Fact: 550 AD Jordanis describes the Aesti-Prussi as part of the Gothic empire under Theodoric the Great. First record of the Polanen was made mid 900's ,when Miezko I and son Boleslaw I Chrobry received land on loan from the German kings/emperors Otto I,II,III . For this they pledged allegiance to the German kings. Then they went conquering to the north,east, west and south. 1920 and 1945-49 the communists and allies from the Soviet Union and Poland illegally removed the oiginal Prussia-German population. Michener echoes this 'original Polish land' fantasy.