The dream of restoring a country house is part of the larger drama of rebuilding a nation in this memoir by a Polish exile who returned home after the fall of communism. With a novelist’s eye for detail, Radek Sikorski draws a revealing portrait of Polish history, of Lech Walesa, and of Poland’s struggle for reform.
The year was 1989, and Sikorski, who as an 18 year old had been given political asylum in England in 1981 and studied at Oxford, returned home and with his parents restored a manor house in his native city in western Poland (and takes pains here to justify his purchase despite restitution laws favoring heirs, which he was not). Then in 1992 he was appointed deputy minister of defense, a job from which, amid so much controversy, he was forced to resign after only three months. In a self-serving, though not uninteresting memoir that tells more than readers will want to know about his family's activities during WWII and disappointingly less about life in the new Poland, Sikorski, a freelance journalist, sets out to establish his bona fides as a Polish patriot. He covers his country's history going back to the 18th-century partition, his childhood under Communism (with annual trips to the West, he was not deprived) and through the exhilarating time of Solidarity. There are astonishing revelations about former president Walesa, who purportedly planned to buy nuclear warheads from the KGB (and cheat them of payment), and a tale of his refusal to entertain the visiting Margaret Thatcher, because he " not receive failed politicians." Can any of that be true? The Walesa presidential palace was like a beer hall, according to Sikorski, and the Solidarity politicians failed because of incompetence and graft. But the new crowd is no improvement, he bemoans, for the Communist collaborators are back in charge. Sikorski concludes that Poland is "busily building an Italy" but that, nevertheless, "life can be perfectly tolerable in a kleptocracy." Photos.