The PHC Book Club

The Book Club members read and discuss with fellow participants a variety
of books about Polish heritage and/or written by Polish authors .
Here is the list of books we have explored over the years.


NEXT MEETING: 7pm on November 7, 2017


"BUSIA: Seasons on the Farm
with My Polish Grandmother"

by Leonard Kniffel

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 The book chronicles one year in the life of a young boy and his grandmother on a farm in Michigan in the 1950s. "

This warm and wonderful story, reminiscent of Truman Capote’s "A Christmas Memory," introduces us to an engaging boy and his stalwart grandmother,” says children’s author and Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper, “A bygone time, a timeless relationship.

A charming chronicle of one year in the life of a young boy and his grandmother living on a farm in rural Michigan in the early 1950's at a time when telephones and televisions had not entered their lives. Instead, they cook and garden and work together to keep the stoves supplied with wood and coal and the cupboards filled with homemade goodies. They prepare for holidays while Busia tells stories about her life in the old country, Poland. All the while they fear that the landlord will ask them to move and give up the farm and all the seasonal delights it holds -- in the attic, the barn, and down the lane to the creek. A simple and poignant tale of the bonds between an only child and his loving "Busia," his Polish grandmother.

From the authors blog: "Leonard Kniffel is the author of A Polish Son in the Motherland: An American’s Journey Home. He is currently President of the all-volunteer Polish American Librarians Association and a member of the Board of Directors of the Polish Museum of America in Chicago. He was editor and publisher of American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association, until 2011, and creator and publisher of @ your library, the American Library Association’s former public awareness website, which was funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York and supported by Disney Book Group and the ALA’s “Library Champions.” Born and raised in Michigan, he holds masters degrees in English and library science from Wayne State University in Detroit. He now lives in Chicago...."

About the Kniffels's book A Polish Son in the Motherland: An American’s Journey Home
discussed in our club in the past

Searching for the remnants of his family, Leonard Kniffel left Chicago in 2000 to live in Poland. A Polish Son in the Motherland is the story of a search for roots and for the reasons why one family's ties were severed more than fifty years ago. Along the way, we see what half a century of communism did to Poland and how the residue of World War II lingers. The author's search begins inauspiciously, but he soon meets a local wine merchant and her son, who are eager to reveal the secrets of Nowe Miasto Lubawskie, the town near which his grandmother was born. After he moves in with Adam, a local entrepreneur who trades in everything from shoes and cosmetics to computers and jam, he begins to master his ancestral language and learn the ways of the community from Adam's mother, who loves long walks in the woods—and meals made from what she picks there. Kniffel's search for a connection to Poland is propelled by memories of the stories his grandmother told him about her emigration to Michigan in 1913. While his family eludes him, the adventure becomes an investigation into the relationship between mothers and the legacy they give their sons. Poles who immigrated to America, the author concludes, must have been particularly good at assimilating into American culture. Less than fifty years after his maternal grandparents arrived in the United States, barely a trace of their Polishness existed in their grandchildren. Through his grandparents' struggles, their children became American and created a new world for themselves and their descendants. In returning to Poland himself, Kniffel sought and found a bridge to the "Great Migration" that changed the lives of so many millions—and millions yet to come. "



THIRD MEETING: 7pm on August 1, 2017

"Joseph CONRAD Korzeniowski
3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924 

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Joseph ConradJoseph Conrad (1857-1924) is one of the leading figures in the world's literature and one of the greatest novelists to ever write in English (despite acquiring it only in his twenties). He was born in a fiercely patriotic Polish family as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski but favored his middle name Konrad received in tribute to poetic works of the great Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz (Dziady and Konrad Wallenrod). He left Poland in 1874 and began a career in merchant fleet (19 years) resulting in the experiences becoming later a backdrop for the prolific literary work. Translated into many languages and exerting influence on many great writers, his most famous novels include Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Nigger of the 'Narcissus', The Secret Agent, The Shadow Line and Under Western Eyes (banned in the communist Poland). But Heart of Darkness remains his most influential work with adaptations for music and opera scenes, radio and theatre plays, TV productions, motion pictures (Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness) and several video games. Conrad's story entitled "The Duel" ("Point of Honor" in the United States) was adopted in the screenplay for the movie The Duellists.


SECOND MEETING: 7pm on May 9, 2017

"The Crooked Mirror: 
A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation" 

by Louise Steinman

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David Ulin: Steinman ... seeks to make a literary reconciliation: exploring the treacherous subject of Polish Jewry through the filter of her family's roots. It's an elegant endeavor, deft and revealing in both private and public ways. As in her previous effort, "The Souvenir," Steinman is adept at questioning assumptions, encouraging us to see the world, and history, in broad and complex terms. "Until I went to Poland," she tells us, "I hadn't realized that it was a country in my head too." (Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2013).

Piotr Florczyk: "With remarkable generosity and an unwavering sense of purpose Louise Steinman writes about the people she meets and the places she visits in Warsaw, Kraków, Radomsko, Vilnius, Lublin, Sejny, Paris, L’viv, and Kolomyja, and finding that things are in fact changing for the better. For those still unconvinced, this book is the proof and the way forward." (Los Angeles Review of Books, November 2, 2013)

J.Hoberman: " Soon after, Steinman discovers that, during the German occupation, some of her Radomsko relations had been saved from certain death and sheltered by a Gentile neighbor. And after that she learns the bitter truth that such wartime courage may be as much a stigma as mark of heroism.

Steinman doesn't much employ the Hebrew term "tikkun olam" (the task of "repairing the world"), but that's essentially what her book is about. In a touching grace note, "The Crooked Mirror" ends in Radomsko with a public tribute to the son of the first local inhabitant to be publicly identified as a rescuer (and consequently honored as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem). It's a recognition that, in her innocence and tenacity, Steinman essentially brought about." (Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2013)

From Steinman's blog: Among the Righteous, on the passing of Marian Bereska


FIRST MEETING: 7pm on February 21, 2017

TOPIC:      Middle Ages in Kraków  AD 500-1500

                         click here for location and other information


Suggested books:


The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

Trumpeter KellyThis historical novel for young adults tells the fictional story of a Polish noble family from Poland's Eastern Borderlands (called Kresy). In 1461, the family of Andrew Charnetski flees henchmen of Ivan III of Russia (Iwan III Srogi) searching for a mysterious crystal that remained under the family's guard but was ultimately to be delivered to Polish king. While in Kraków, Andrew Charnetski accepts a job of trumpeter playing the St. Mary's Trumpet Call (Hejnał mariacki) from the tower of St. Mary's Church (Kościół Mariacki). The crystal is eventually delivered to king Casimir IV Jagiellon (Kazimierz Jagiellończyk) but ends up being thrown into the Vistula River (Wisła).

Published in 1928, the book won the 1929 Newbery Medal awarded every year to the authors of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." The book was also the first ever to attribute the death of a legendary trumpeter to the Tatar arrow piercing his throat during Mongol invasions. Eric P. Kelly (1884-1960) was a professor of English at Dartmouth College (1921-1944) but spent several years in Poland. During the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1921), he accompanied the Haller's Army as a volunteer for Les Foyers du Soldat (one of three welfare organization including also the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A). Then in 1925-1926, he was the Kosciuszko Foundation exchange scholar at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Finally, Kelly spent years 1930-1931 in Wilno (currently Vilnius) and Lwów (currently Lviv), then within Polish borders,  producing other books for children based on local legends.

The King Krakus and the Dragon by Janina Domanska

Dragon Domanska"Janina Domanska is a Caldecott honor book winner, hers picture books consistently won critical praise as well as popularity. Domanska has found her inspiration in Polish folk art. She also is the creator of the gorgeous illustrations that harmonize the Polish legends. The book “King Krakus and the Dragon” is an old Polish folktale that tells story about Dratewka, the shoemaker’s apprentice, who by a clever trick was able to kill Dragon. This story was always my favorite. As a child I loved visited Wavel and dragon’s cave and visualized this huge dragon who lived by river Vistula and terrify Krakow’s residents" (from GoodReads website)

"A Caldecott Honor winner in 1971 for If All The Seas Were One Sea, Domanska also illustrated the Newbery Medal Winner, The Trumpeter of Krakow. Her beautiful artwork, based on Polish folk-motifs, is a wonderful complement to the story, which should appeal to folklore enthusiasts young and old" (from LibraryThing site)


krakow zygulski


From ONLINE booksellers

Cracow: An Illustrated History by Zdzisław Żygulski

This concise volume offers the reader a panoramic view of Cracow, from its mythical founding to its designation as a European City of Culture in the twenty-first century. Enriched by fifty illustrations and photographs, it explores the city's continuing role as Poland's cultural, social, and educational centre (from Amazon website)


A History of Krakow for Everyone by Jan M. Małecki

"It is a fascinating story of the history of Krakow, and a superb guide, peppered with curiosities, anecdotes and quotes from primary sources. It recounts the most important and interesting events in Krakow's history, profiles its most colorful characters, and outlines key circumstanceskrakow malecki that have shaped its development. This book is a must for all tourists and of Krakow who want to learn more about what makes the city tick." (from Amazon website).

"Though I still tend to confuse the times of rule of Polish kings, their wives and children, the history of Krakow seemed to explain the political situation to show the reader the political context in which Krakow was at the certain time. It is created like a story that one reads very quickly, but at the same time it provides dates and specific information that are necessary for understanding the history of the city. The book offers its readers couple of idle pictures, referring to Krakow or Polish history, and loads of information that are divided into the most important periods of city’s life. Not only one can get to know Polish kings and princes, and the events that influenced their rule, but also individuals that influenced Krakow and its past. Important facts, however, do not ‘bomb’ or scare the reader with its amount but enable them to get the idea of the past of the city. The book at some points gives the feeling of reading belles-lettres rather than history but still helps to get the basic overview on Krakow’s history (from BellaOnline website)