Radek Sikorski - The Polish House: An Intimate History of Poland
How many lives Radek Sikorski is planning to have?
He began as a precocious political opponent in Bydgoszcz to become quite soon an influential Polish ex-pat as an Oxonian student and a public speecher. Then he turned up to be a successful photoreporter in Afghanistan, which leads him to follow the path of war journalism in Angola.
Back to Poland, the twenty something Sikorski became the landlord of a depauparated countryside manor and its first mason (piling bricks not joining a Great Lodge). Then, while standing on the roof of his dwelling, he received a phonecall from Warsaw and soon found himself in the suit of the deputy Defence minister.
And these events only cover a span of thirty years. Wow!
Then, Sikorski wrote this book. Which is not probably the greatest achievement of his impressive career, but still it is something remarkable.
Sikorski is clearly at ease in talking about himself, so much at ease that one can have the impression that he puts a bit too much of self-esteem in this book. But "The Polish House" is far from being a mere hagiography. At the contrary, Sikorski, quite modestly, omits to mention a few other lives of him like, the time he spent advising Rupert Murdoch on how to invest in Poland or the dinners he had at the Oxonian Bullingdon Club together with the future British estabilishment.
Anyways, now Radoslaw "Radek" Sikorski is the incumbent minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland and given his current capacities it is hard to see him as the passionate author of a book as "The Polish House".
Here what we have is a very interesting -and very subjective- account of 25 years of Polish history during communism revolving around the childhood of Sikorski, his family, his exile and later on his grand return in his homeland.
There he finally purchases, restores and "saves" from oblivion the long-forgotten manor of Chobielin giving his personal contribution to the rebirth of a nation after the communist trauma (I'm not exaggerating as he puts the dwelling rescue like an act of patriotism).
"The Polish House" is not only the story of Chobielin, but still the manor plays a key part in Sikorski book. A book that is very hard to label under any definite category: it's definitely not an essay, nor a story book and not a novel too. I would call it a sort of early biography which really reminded me of Curzio Malaparte. Just like Malaparte, Sikorski saw on first person many crucial events in history and took an active part in them. Unlike Malaparte, he admits a few mistakes of him, but like his Italian precursor he enjoys denigrating some important characters he met. And Radek Sikorski's favourite fools and villains are Lech Wałęsa and Boris Yeltsin.
There are moments in which the book takes sudden detours or better derails into something else. Around sixty pages, for example, are dedicated to the far-fetched story of a Sikorski's distant relative during World War II. Adventures that reminded me quite a lot the controversial "The Painted Bird" by Jerzy Kosinski and that I couldn't help to think partly invented or largely embellished.
And yet, despite of its occasional chauvinist excesses, thanks to this book I learned quite a lot more about Poland sometimes smiling at Sikorski's childhood memories during communism (the holidays in Turkey! the parades at school!).
Well, this man is just 48 years old, but apparently he took the most from his life. It's just a pity that an intense political and diplomatic career didn't let Radek Sikorski write anything else. I would be really curious of knowing what he thinks about the state Poland is in right now. Well, perhaps after having invited the likes of Shakira (sic!) and David Hasselhoff (double sic!), the once eminent Oxford Union will redeem itself by calling this guy to have a word or two.