Like many of James A. Michener’s other bestselling novels, Poland is a story about fictional characters whose lives allow Michener to show how historical events affected and were influenced by the real people who lived in that real place.
In Poland, the opening and closing chapters are set in 1981 as farmers in a fictional Polish farming community along the Vistula River try to organize a union, which the Soviets oppose: A union would give Polish farmers too much control over Russia’s food supply.
In the chapters in between, Michener traces Polish history forward from the 13th century when invaders from the East under Genghis Khan ravaged Poland.
From that period through 1918, Poland’s rulers kept its peasants tied to the land, little better than slaves.
Various of Poland’s neighbors sought to influence, control, or eliminate it in accordance with their own political aspirations: Poland disappeared entirely from the map of Europe for 123 years.
Russia succeeded after World War II in turning Poland into a Soviet satellite.
The sweep of the novel, the difficulties of Polish names, and the strangeness of Poland’s political system make for challenging reading, but it will reward readers with a better understanding of the corner of Europe that Vladimir Putin dominates today.
Mila 18 is a fictional account of the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.
Leon Uris weaves together the stories of Jews inside the Ghetto with stories both of their friends and their enemies outside.
The Jews are deeply divided over how to respond to the Nazi threat. Many hope it will go away if ignored. Some want to appease. Some want to fight.
As the Nazis systematically depopulate the Ghetto, a core of those ready to fight forms in secret basement rooms beneath Mila 18.
Led by Andrei Androfski, Jews fight unexpectedly and valiantly. Only a few escape, getting out through the sewers, but among them is a gentile journalist who knows where the Jews buried documents detailing their ghetto experience.
If the plot of Mila 18 sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because John Hersey used the same historical outline for his 1950 bestseller The Wall.
Uris’s addition of non-Jewish characters like the Nazi Horst von Epp and Polish collaborator Franz Koenig adds to readers’ understanding of events, particularly the ethnic rivalries that gave the Nazis a foothold, but weakens the novel’s focus.
If you can read only one novel about the Warsaw uprising, choose The Wall instead.
Mila 18 By Leon Uris
1961 bestseller # 4
My Grade: B +