The Last Mazurka is a curious little book that defies pigeonholing and perhaps that confusion is the book's best feature. At the heart of the book it is the tale of a grandson's search for his aristocratic family and to understand what happened to the family in pre and post World War II Poland.
A central theme of the book is mismatched people and marriages that should have never happened.
This first star-crossed marriage is between the author's grandfather, Hieronim Tarnowski and Wanda Zamoyska. Hieronim and Wanda were born into one of the wealthy Krakow families and enjoyed a life that seems like a fabrication of some fairy tale today. However, they were not suited for each other and life was not easy for them but their turbulent marriage produced three children, Sophie, Stas and Artur.
As World War II looms, Hieronim encourages his daughter (Sophie) and son (Stas) to flee Poland in front of the advancing Soviets and Germans. (Hieronim and Wanda had separated. Artur was living with his mother in southern Poland.) The book traces their movements all across Europe and the Middle East, as Sophie and Stas attempt to find a place to fit in.
Repeating their parent's mistake both Sophie and Stas marry unwisely. The consequence of Stas' marriage to Chouquette forms the central question for the author. Stas, who is the author's father, is consistently referred to as Stas. Later when the author seeks to find his father, Stas is sometimes referred to as father. Since this is supposedly a family's tale of this intentional distance is confusing and puzzling. Is the author condemning of his father and mother's actions during the war or is there growing but grudging understanding on the son's part? The answer is never clear.
This confusion extends to the family's and the author's relationship with Poland. At the end of the book a member of the family has be able to re-purchase the family home at Rudnik. In a poignant scene the family comes together to celebrate the restoration of the family home and see if there was any common ground among the now four generations of Hieronim and Wanda Tarnowski but the author finds that when it comes to ownership of the family legacy there was nothing but bitterness.
"The Last Mazurka" is in the end perhaps an unsatisfying read but nonetheless an interesting one. Unsatisfying in that questions are raised that are never answered and that may be the entire point, the author takes us on a journey of discovery for family and finds that families are not easily defined. The tone of loss that pervades the entire book seems appropriate and honest.
The Last Mazurka: A Family's Tale of War, Passion, and Loss
Author: Andrew Tarnowski
St Martin's Press 2006