THE PRIVATE POLAND - Reviews
Chicago Tribune, Friday, August 8, 1986 Section 5, p. 3
The Private Poland by Janine Wedel: New York: Facts on File Publications, 1986: 226 pages. $17.95.
Intimate glimpse of Poland
James Yuenger, The Tribune's Warsaw correspondent
Every now and then, quite a good book by an academic comes along that, if its author had novelistic talent, could probably be converted into a best seller. Janine Wedel's "The Private Poland" is one of them.
Not that it's academic-dry or replete with numbing charts and graphs. This is a sprightly, sensitive book that displays the intelligence of a young social anthropologist who did what any good journalist docs: First she put on her right shoe, then she put on her left shoe, then she went out and walked around and talked to people and cast a discerning eye over everything she saw.
A great many books about Poland have been published, mostly by journalists, since the birth pangs and final agonies of the Solidarity trade union movement in the early I 980s. Most of them arc pretty good except for their failure to define the hour-by-hour realities of Polish life.
Wedel takes a different tack, one that is unusual for someone who approached Polish society as a serious student. The result is a brief but engaging and accurate portrait. Open it at any page and you'll find the unexpected:
"I met a group of Poland's 'millionaires' at a wedding in the city, of Wroclaw. Guests drove to the church in Mercedes. Men wore tuxedos, women attempted haute couture with huge jewels, lace, leather and silk. It was a group of young entrepreneurs, many of them owners of boutiques. They earned upwards of 20,000 zlotys daily, more than the average monthly salary in Poland."
There's a fine reporter's eye working there. It's dangerous, of course, to popularize with too heavy a hand, as a British television reporter did a couple of years ago in a. book devoted mainly to his own reactions toward what was happening in Poland as martial law snuffed out the heady emotions of Solidarity's heyday. That's not a mistake that Wedel makes.
She is devastatingly good in her analysis of the hypocrisy that lies beneath Poland's continuing dependence on the American dollar to prop up its disjointed economy.
She is adept, too, at describing the difference between the public and private lives that Poles live and the way they are forced to lie, cheat, connive and cut corners to get along.
Wedel made two short visits to Poland in the late 19705 and then settled in later for a two-year stay to obtain a doctorate during the period of the nation's recent greatest turbulence and upheaval.
She laughed with her Polish friends, and cried with them, and tried with a notable measure of success to figure out what they were all about. Her assessment about prevailing attitudes is somber.
"Most people," she quotes a young Pole as saying, "are coming to the point where they just want to be left alone .... People arc tired of trouble and of struggle. They simply want peace. Such is life."
At $17.95, this good book is probably overpriced, and its second-rank publisher probably won't give it the far wider circulation that it deserves. That's a pity.