"The Black Madonna of Derby" is very readable and enjoyable novel about complexities of the life of multi-generational family of Polish origin settled in Derby, England.
It encompasses three generations starting with babcia (grandmother) who does not even speak English and finishing with the grandchildren. The book encompasses different time periods; the family saga starts before World War II and it ends at late 70s. It shows glimpses of life in Poland through the dangerous times of war, so called street "lapanka", when people are caught randomly on the streets and send them to labor camps in Germany. Eventually we see the post-war communistic Warsaw with newly built big buildings full of small flats and boring streets with similar stores half-empty inside. On the other hand we discover Krakow, royal city of Poland and its full of life cafeterias and the spirit of Polish people which is seemingly unbroken, in spite of the suffering they have to endure.The story is so interesting that I felt as like I become a part of the Baran's family.
First we learn about the life in Poland through the memories of "Babcia" - Barbara Karolina Poniatowska who was married to a Polish aristocrat briefly before the war. Helena, their beautiful daughter, is a fruit of this union. According to babcia, life in Poland was wonderful and her husband was a perfect war hero. After babcia's return to Poland we reveal her complex life through the eyes of others. We recognize that the death of babcia's mentally and physically sick husband was a blessing for her and Helena, their daughter.
Babcia and Helena suffered a lot during World War II, like many Poles did. Helena was taken away from her mother and brought to Germany to work in labor camp in the effect of "lapanka". After the war, Helena ends up in England when she marries Tadek Baran. Tadek is her admiring husband and a down-to-earth person. Helena's fate is compared with a fate of her Polish cousin, Irena, who lives in Poland. Helena earns quite a lot of money, although she is working as a blue-collar worker in the factory in England. Irena, her cousin, is a medical doctor. She is very respected and holds a very responsible job but earns very little money and lives in a small apartment in Warsaw.
The youngest generation of Baran's family and their complex life stories are showed through the eyes of Zosia, a beautiful and very successful girl, Wanda, her sister who is considered "the ugly duckling" and Janek. We see the lives of English youth in 60s through the eyes of Wanda, when she moves to swinging London. Wanda became a fan of Beatles, this allows her to forget about her hard job and strange living arrangements.Eventually the fates of Helena's daughters are interlinked with Pawel, their Polish second cousin and a son of Irena.
Joanna Czechowska has a great talent. The story main characters are described in a very interesting, vivid and quite real way, the outcome of some stories are just simply shocking. I remember especially the story when Wanda discovers that she was abused and mocked by her "friends" who presented her portrait as a distorted portrait of the Alice in the Wonderland. I could identify with her through this story also.
Excellent read, I would recommend it not only to Polish immigrants but everybody else who likes a good story.
The book is available on Amazon:
The Black Madonna of Derby, by Joanna Czechowska
If you live in Great Britain - here is a LINK to the Amazon UK edition