I wasnít sure what to expect when I first began to read The Black Madonna of Derby by Joanna Czechowska. Normally I read mystery, suspense, or science fiction/fantasy. Pleasantly surprised, I discovered that historical fiction, especially if written by Joanna Czechowska, is quite enjoyable.
The suspense of how these Polish refugees would adjust to their new life in England kept me from being able to put the book down. The fact is that many Polish families probably went through much of what this fictional family experienced.
The story covers 3 generations of a Polish family who came to England because of unrest and war in their own country. Each of them struggles in different ways, and each handles the stress of living in a foreign country as best they can.
The story opens with Babcia, the matriarch of the family, and her dissatisfaction that her grandchildren are so easily picking up the English ways and language. She is so displeased that she wishes to return to Poland, which is still in a state of unrest.
Babcia has either chosen to ignore facts about her late husband, or not accepted these facts as truth. Either way, they are never talked about. Part of the suspense is finding out what the truth of what happened. She speaks only her own comfortable version of what she believes.
Babciaís daughter, Helena has her own set of problems. Things happened in Poland that she has kept hidden, even from her husband, Tadek. Without meaning to, she brings these hidden things out into the open.
We follow their children- Wanda, Zosia, and Janek - through their turbulent teenage years full of hope, discovery, rebellion, marriage, and even a death.
The author skillfully transitions back and forth between peaceful England and Poland, full of strife and unrest. As one learns what this family has experienced, it becomes more and more difficult to quit reading.
Some of you may have objections to off-color language in the books you read. A 4 letter word that begins with f is used a handful of times by one of the teenage girls. I don't much like the word, either, but I believe it is a word the character would have used, so I don't consider it to have been used unnecessarily.
The use of that one word did not take away from my enjoyment of the story. If anything, it illustrated the depth of confusion and pain this girl felt. Her sister dealt with confusion and pain by inflicting physical pain upon herself. Both acts tend to make the characters more real, so they are remembered. I wonder how many refugees experienced the same heartbreak and turmoil.
I asked the author some questions that she gladly answered for me.
1) Do any of the characters in the book represent you or someone you know?
The characters are not really based on anyone but are an amalgam of various people. Thinking about it, Wanda and Zosia both have aspects of my character. Like Zosia, I loved history and perhaps was a rather withdrawn child who was often alone and love doing little archaeological excavations in the garden and writing stories about historical characters. I went on to do a history degree at London University as Zosia hoped to do. However, she can be a little dry and humourless which I hope I am not. In that sense Iím more like Wanda, someone who love word play and humour - I also love the Beatles as she does.
2) How much research, if any, did you need to do?
I drew much of the inspiration from my own memories - the Polish club in Derby in the Sixties, visiting communist Poland during that decade, memories of my Polish grandmother. I had to do some research about London I the 1960s as I was too young to remember it but I have a sister who is 11 years older than me and drew on my memories of her at that time. I had to research some Polish history - the 1920 war against the new Soviet Union, also Poland during the occupation and the street roundups.
3) Iím sure your fans are eagerly awaiting another book from you. What are you working on now?
Quite a few people have asked about a sequel to The Black Madonna of Derby. I have some ideas but nothing clear yet. At the moment, I am working on another novel which is a modernization of a famous classic. It is also set in Derby but has no other connection to The Black Madonna. Itís still a work in progress.
A copy of this book can be purchased from the author's website at http://www.jczechowska.com/BuyTheBook.html.
A copy may also be purchased through Amazon UK by clicking on the link below.
The Black Madonna of Derby
The book can also be purchased through Amazon USA by clicking on the below link.
The Black Madonna of Derby