I know, I know. That seems random, right? But I finished The Trumpeter of Krakow this week, and it really did give me a completely different sense of Poland. Up until now, Mel Brooks’ line from his “To Be Or Not To Be” (a movie worth enjoying, by the way) summed up what I knew of the country. “Poland, the doormat of Europe. Everybody steps on us.” I knew that England made Poland their line in the sand and declared war on Germany for invading it in 1939; I knew it had been under Soviet control after WWII.
That’s pretty much it.
Interestingly enough, Trumpeter was written before any of that took place; it won the Newbery Medal in 1929. Written by an American who studied Polish culture and obviously fell in love with the country, it takes place in medieval Krakow, which was apparently an impressive city. Andrew Charnetski and his small family arrive from their native Ukraine to find their looked-for refuge vanished and their lives threatened; the secret they guard ultimately touches the lives of most of the city’s inhabitants. Saying much more feels like a spoiler, so I’ll say this instead–as much as I don’t love reading about medieval times, this story captivates easily. It also moves quickly, despite its older writing style, and ought to appeal to adventure fans today. I felt initially that the Charnetskis ended up being too lucky in their friends, but the twists of the plot brought balance, and the ending was surprisingly satisfactory. Bottom line? It’s worth taking a look at, especially if you’re looking for books about boys.