Another book I have read for the never-ending research for my novel. Of course, again I have realised I need to rewrite a couple of scenes because of some limitations that the communist regime imposed on the citizens of Poland. Interestingly enough, that’s where I find most factual mistakes in my novel. There was no visiting in maternity wards. The telephone communication between different towns was impossible for at least the first month of the Martial Law in 1981, etc. etc. This all is a great pain in the ass because I now have to rewrite things. Of course, technically it offers fantastic plot solutions, especially if what you need is a case of misunderstanding or miscommunication. Something that is hard to achieve these days because we are so well connected.
This book called ‘Fever Chart’ relates the history of communist Poland concentrating on its pivotal moments – most serious conflicts between the people and the People’s Party.
It’s rather hard to write the history of that time because of what the People’s Republic of Poland was. It is almost impossible to tell the economic history of that time for example, because all the official statistics and data are complete moonshine. The data shows whatever the Party needed to see at the time. It is equally hard to talk about individual politicians, because people were exchangeable, and could fall out of favour easily and we will probably never know exactly who did what and who made which decision.
Karpiński divided his book into four parts representing different periods of Polish history between 1945-1989. Most of the articles in the book were written separately and a long time ago. After that not much editing happened, so you will find occasional repetitions and often the use of present tense where, luckily, past tense should apply. Karpiński’s tone makes up for those shortcomings – his narrative is a gently sarcastic and mocks the communist regime almost humorously.
The first part talks about the first 15 years after the war and made me realise it wasn’t until the 1952 that the People’s Republic of Poland was officially established. Even though our fate was pretty much sealed in Yalta, it seemed that, as usual, we didn’t want to go without a fight. It’s a rather dark time marked by the Stalinist terror and it wasn’t until 1956 that the first thaw came. As you can imagine, it didn’t last long. Soon it was explained to the society that the Party was there to stay and what the purpose of elections was (for that check Gomułka’s speech from 1957 - “the point of elections is not to see whether the Party will stay in power, because the Party will stay in power and will never yield to the forces of reaction and restorers of capitalism”). I suppose the elections were just an opportunity for the society to tell the Party how much they love and support them.
Next chapter talks about the short 1968. Yes, Poland did have its 1968 (not as much as Czechoslovakia though). And to be fair, the students behind the Iron Curtain had a lot more to protest against than the Western ones. Needless to say, it didn’t end well for the students.
The third chapter talks about the turbulences of the 70’s which culminated in the birth of Solidarity. It’s basically a long list of strikes and appeals, price rises, demonstrations, and the government’s violent retaliation.
Eventually, the book arrives to its most interesting part – the Martial Law and its immediate aftermath. I don’t know if it really was the most interesting part, or whether it was just the part I’m most interested in, because that’s when half of my book takes place. One way or another, it’s thanks to this last chapter I awarded this book four stars.
All in all, a real goldmine of interesting facts: how they would announce price rises on Saturday so people would talk to Jesus and chill over Sunday and not go mental at work on Monday, or how during Martial Law one of the many things that had been banned was water sports like sailing or canoeing (yes, let’s overthrow the government one canoe at a time).