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Push Not the River by James Conroyd Martin - Book Review

Push Not the River
James Conroyd Martin
Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press
September 2003

News

The Polish translation of Push Not the River, a novel based on the diary of a Polish countess who lived through the Third of May Constitution years (1790s) has been published by the largest book club in Poland, debuting there at # 5. Seventeen-year-old Anna Maria Berezowska started her diary at the age of seventeen, when both her personal life and the political situation in Poland began to unravel. Author James Conroyd Martin began work with the diary in 1976, balancing and integrating Anna's very personal odyssey with the rise and fall of the ill-fated Constitution. Critics have cited the story as having the sweep of stories like Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago. "But Anna's story is true," Martin is quick to point out.

The novel

"Push Not the River" written by James Conroyd Martin is a historical romance based on the eighteenth-century diary of seventeen-year-old Countess Anna Maria Berezowska. The novel tells a compelling story of a transformation of a young girl into a matured and experienced woman. The action of the story takes place during turbilent times in Poland - during the approval by Polish Parliament of the Third of May Constitution in 1791. The Polish Constitution was established as the second democratic Constitution in the world, just after the USA. It also describes the loss of the independence by Poland through two last successive partitions in 1793 and 1795.

The main character of the story is a Countess Anna Maria Berezowska of Sochaczew. She is the only child of her parents. Anna is just 17 when her parents passed away. As an orphan she is placed in the care of her aunt Stella Gronska. While being in aunt Gronska's minor in Halicz (Southeastern part of Poland now Ukraine) she meets her first and big love, Jan Stednicki. Jan is a brave Polish compatriot from the army of general Kosciuszko. Anna is forced to get married by somebody else as a result of the intrigue. The novel is full of action. Anna in the effect of the intrigues of her husband is almost killed. She has to hide in the country where she discovers the life of the lower class of the society. After return to Gronski's winter house in Warsaw Anna gives birth to the baby boy - who was concieved in the effect of rape. Anna's love to Jan Stednicki survives but their marriage is delayed because of the general Kosciuszko's insurrection and the fight for independence in which Stednicki plays an active role.

The book reflects historical and social reality of this time. It displays people of different social status in Poland in their normal regular daily life in a very colorful and historically detailed way. Martin talks critically about the life of the high class of the society, he blames the aristocrats for the final fall of Poland. Many of these people were leading decadent life devoted to pleasures of the nighttime parting instead of taking responsibility for their homeland and the welfare of the other countrymen with less or no rights.

The author

James Conroyd Martin, the author of the novel, is a chair of the English Department for Marian High School in Illinois. He holds degrees from St. Ambrose and DePaul Universities. Martin was working on the diary of Countess Anna from a translation by her descendant, John A. Stelnicki. Anna sometimes secretly copied into her diary the entries from her cousin Zofia, the daughter her aunt Stella Gronska and this makes her diary even more interesting but it also caused withholding of the document from the public for a long time.

Recommended reading(s):

Push not the riverI recommend this book to anyone who is either familiar with Polish culture and history or who wants to know some historical details about Poland's interesting culture and history. Besides, it is a very interesting text to read.

Against a crimson skyThe second part was published by Thomas Dunne Books and can be purchased on line in Amazon.com

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