Chrissie's Reviews > Maps and Shadows

Maps and Shadows by Krysia Jopek
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Aug 17, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: hf, poland, usa, uzbekistan, iran, iraq, israel, soviet-union, great-britain, tanzania, bio, history

The history covered in this book is very interesting. The book deals with the consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Russia and Germany, the name being the foreign ministers of the respective countries. The book is essentially about how historical events play out in one Polish family. This book is sold as historical fiction, but in my view it reads more as a history book. The prose style is very factual, filled with intersting historical details. I appreciate what I learned, but I did not ever feel closer to the characters. I have read other biographies where I end up loving/hating the characters, but not here! This family was deported from Poland to Russian labor camps east of Archangel, located on the White Sea, a bit below Barents Sea. This is in European Siberia. The family of five travel in cattle cars up to the camps. The conditions of this travel and of their stay in Siberia are horrendous. But the story continues and follows the family when they leave Siberia when the Poles were liberated. The hardship do not end, they get worse! Hunger, disease, abominable living conditions, freezing and dangerously hot temperatures. You name it, they went through it. When Germany later invaded Russia, it was decided that the Polish men could better help by fighting against the Germans. This meant that the rest of the family had to flee Russia alone. They went via Uzbekistan, Iran and then Tanzania.

The novel is told with respective chapters being narrated by different members of the family - the father, the mother, the older son Henryck, who is twelve at the beginning, and his older sister Helcia. She is fifteen. There is an even younger son who is only four. He does not narrate any of the chapters. The purpose of having the four different narrators is tthat through them the author could describe the plight of various Poles - the wives, the small children, the young boys who trained in military camps and girls. You learn about the plight of these respective groups, but the book does not bring you close to any of the characters as individuals.

At the end of the book it is stated that the author based it on the experiences of her father and his family. I am not sure, but it seems that Henryck could be the author's father. I would have preferred more clarity. It felt like a very interesting text book. Why do they sell it as historical fiction? It doesn't feel ike historical fiction at all.

Furthermore, the author is a poet. Each chapter is begun with poems. They did not speak to me. Maybe others who really enjoy poetry will appreciate them more than I did. On the other hand each chapter also began with wonderful portraits of family members at different moments off their trip. I wanted to know who made these pictures, and the only information given was that they were from "the collections of Henry, Jopeck, Stefan, Mucha and Helen Zasada". I am guessing that Henry is Henryk, but the other names I do not recognize. The drawings look like they are all done by the same person. I end up quite annoyed that this information is lacking. Why? Because I very much liked these drawings. Nevertheless, the poetry and the art don't really fit the factual content of the book...... It is like tha author is trying to make the book encompass everything - poetry , art, history, biography and fiction. It ends up a bit of a mish-mash.

There is a map, but it is practically unusable! There is a bibliography of the books used by the author. This is an informative book relating the history of the Poles during WW2. Did you know that many Poles were sent to settlement camps in South Africa? The forced travels of Poles ejected from their country during WW2 were horrendous. We are not talking about persecution of Jews. We are talking about people evicted from their land and who have been made stateless due to the pacts and agreements of those leaders deciding world history.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 161) (161 new)

message 1: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Hi Chrissie, this does look interesting. I liked how you explained to me that you read history to learn more about the people's lives & cultures. I think one reason I like travel and maps is because I feel geography, also, has something to do with how people & cultures grow. I think you'd like my group, Fans of Maps, and I'd love to have you join us over there. I'm trying to make it inclusive of a lot of related interests, and people can just pick and choose what topics they want to read.

message 2: by Chrissie (last edited Oct 15, 2010 09:37PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Cheryl, I will check out your group.

message 3: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, I'd bet it's historical fiction and not history because some things about the family, conversations, etc. probably had to be made up because the real details weren't known. Does that seem likely to you?

Chrissie Lisa, yes, absolutely. I never got close to the chararcters. The author used them as a tool to teach about different Polish groups. People should never be used as tools. I have read non-fiction biography where I feel empathy for the individuals. This doesn't happen. I see this as a failure of the book. These people were her family. The mix of fact and fiction could have been better executed.

I am glad I read the book. I learned a lot! A history book need not feel like a history book. This one did most of the time. Make it a history book or make it a biography or make it a fiction novel, but it ended up a sorry mixture of everything.

message 5: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Too bad because the subject is fascinating.

Chrissie Lisa, the history is fascinating in the book. For me a three star book is very well worth reading. I am judging the book as a whole. If you are interested in the history is is well worth reading. If you like poetry, you might get enjoyment from that too. I loved the portraits. You do not have to use the map in the front of the book; I brought out my atlas.

As a finished product, I think it could have been improved. I would have liked to feel empathy for the family members. What they lived through was horrific.

More people should be made aware of the the treatment the Poles got in the Second World War. It also discusses the betrayal felt by the Poles as the result of the Yalta and Teheran Conferences. I really do think the Poles got the short end of the stick resulting from the treaties.

I do not mean to discourage people from reading this book!

message 7: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, I know 3 stars means you liked it. I don't think your review will discourage otherwise interested people. But, I might prefer to see if I can find another book on the same subject, or not, as I am already on book overwhelm and I feel as though I learned at least a little about this just from reading your review.

Chrissie Mmmm, everyone has to decide for themselves what to read. I know you are very restrictive concerning what books you add to yor shelves. I will often add books that I find interesting, but know I am not going to read them in the near future. I put them there to keep track of them. Someday my interests could pull me in that direction, and then I know what book to read. :0) I probably have enough books on my lists to last me until I die. Maybe not a cheery thought, but true. Anyhow, I still add more books. I am hopeless.

message 9: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, I do too, add books to remember them. But my to read shelf is so full I can't easily find them. I'm hoping books of interest will reappear on others' shelves and I continuing discussions such as this one, and that's how I'll remember them.

message 10: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan I give up. It looks too good. Adding it!! ;-)

message 11: by Chrissie (last edited Feb 27, 2011 12:21PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Lisa, I remember them by putting them on shelves of the countries in which they take place. I usually feel - oooh,, I want to read a book about Japan, then I will look on the Japan shelf. Or if I feel I have to have a book, I will check out what other books I might want to read with it; there again i look on the country shelf. I am kind of fixated on countries and cultures.....

I saw trhat you had that book about a penguin : Death and the Penguin. I have to meet this penguin. Just a side-thought.

Chrissie I think you will enjoy it Lisa. You will not start with the wrong impression that you will be sitting down with an historical FICTION book, but rather an history book with poems and art, based primarily on a real family's life. The real life story is probably pushed and shoved into another shape than the real one, but the essence is true.

message 13: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, exactly. And I'll be reading for learning about what did happen to the Polish people who were affected by this. Aren't human beings sometimes hard to understand?!!!

Chrissie Yup, I am with you there. I will take a four footed anytime over a two.

message 15: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Intriguing, Chrissie!!

Chrissie Barbara, it is definitely worth reading. Do not be discouraged by my three stars.

I am ever so honored that you always read my reviews. Thank you very much.

message 17: by Barbara (new)

Barbara I think that you deserve my attention. You take such effort with your comments and reviews!!

message 18: by Chrissie (last edited Mar 01, 2011 10:07PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Barbara, I am blushing!

Lately, the oomph has gone out of me. I have been considering not writing reviews anymore. I guess it is a midwinter slump?! Then I read your nice words, and I figure, ok, write just a little bit. Don't be lazy. Help others decide if this book is for them.

message 19: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, I think all of us get in the slumps about writing reviews. Sometimes we need to take a short break, even if it's just skipping writing a review very rarely. But, I'm very happy you're going to try to continue contributing reviews here!!! Very happy!!!

Chrissie Lisa, thanks.

message 21: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Do what you need to, to manage your personal resources, Chrissie, but if you must cut back on reviews please make them a bit shorter rather than just skipping some - you help me make decisions about books regularly, and even when I don't add a recommendation I still learn from what you share.

message 22: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Cheryl wrote: "Do what you need to, to manage your personal resources, Chrissie, but if you must cut back on reviews please make them a bit shorter rather than just skipping some - you help me make decisions abou..."

Chrissie, I agree with Cheryl completely.
I often don't have the energy, or the time to sit down and write a review. It may help you to shorten your comments a little so that it will not seem to be such a task.

Chrissie Good idea from both of you!

message 24: by Barbara (new)

Barbara What are friends for!? :)

Chrissie Thank you Barbara! For being such a friend!

message 26: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie wrote: "Good idea from both of you!"

That's what I was trying to say too. This should be fun. If it's not, take a break. Just know we appreciate your reviews when you do write them.

message 27: by Barbara (last edited Mar 02, 2011 01:42PM) (new)

Barbara I don't really know any of you, but so often in GR I can see us as a warm, cohesive group! See what you sparked, Chrissie?

Chrissie It is true about being a warm, cohesive group. I certainly don't feel this way with my neighbors. I think sharing a love of book, sharing the need to want to talk about books is something that binds people. We have a sismilarity that is important even though the exact books we might choose can be different.

message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

I really enjoy your reviews, too, Chrissie! Especially when you create a running diary of your progress through a book. It's interesting to follow your analysis. Take a break if you need one, but don't give up! :)

Chrissie Jeanette, the "running diary" ones are defintiely the easiest. That could be the way to go. Little bubbles of thought as they effervesce from my head.

message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

And then your summary is shorter and easier to write from your notes. I think you would miss writing reviews, and then discussing your reviews with your friends, too.

Chrissie Definitely, but just generally I have been in a bad mood. Actually I thik I have been very annoyed with having difficulty reading paper books. I plan on getting a Kindle, but am having difficulty finding the ebooks I want. That is my next challenge.

message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

How is the weather by you? February tends to be gloomy and wet, so once we get some real spring weather -- that will help. It's still cold here, but it smelled like spring when I took the dog out this morning.

I have used the Kindle on my iMac, but have only downloaded from (the US branch). Are you able to download from a variety of amazon sites? Do you have one in Belgium? This is something I should probably check into, because it would be great to be able to download from, for example.

Chrissie I ASSUMED that you do not have to buy your machine from the same place uou buy the Kindle ebooks...... There are much fewer ebooks at so I am quite worried if I cannot order the machine fromthe UK and the books from the States. Could this be possible? You have me a bit worried.....

Brussels is around zero centigrade all winter - gray is the word best used to describe it! I like my morning walk best. There is nobody out in the city. :0)

message 35: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, I've heard from international friends that they can't buy Kindle books from the U.S. site. That was supposed to change at some point but I don't know if it has.

message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

I don't know, because I don't own a Kindle. I just have Kindle downloaded to my PC. I think I'll try it out for you -- see if I can download some books from Germany.

Early morning walks through a quiet city are always nice!

message 37: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan I don't like the Nook because of purchases from B & N, who I never buy from, or the Kindle because of Amazon purchases, even though I continue to buy from them I don't want to buy from them. My library though has Nook books but never will have Kindle; Amazon won't allow it, I'm quite sure. Some people really like the Sony readers and say the most independent books are there. Sorry to confuse the issue even more when you've possibly made up your mind, Chrissie! But, it's a major decision.

message 38: by [deleted user] (new)

This is the message I got on amazon in the UK:

Jeannette J., the Kindle Store on is for UK customers only. To shop for titles available for your country, please visit

I logged on to the UK site using my US account. I don't know if I could create a second account, but I think they could figure out that my machine is in the US. Amazon has pretty good customer service (they respond in a timely manner). You may want to send an email to amazon in the UK and find out how this works.

message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

Lisa wrote: "Chrissie, I've heard from international friends that they can't buy Kindle books from the U.S. site. That was supposed to change at some point but I don't know if it has."

Sorry, Lisa, I was typing while you were posting, so I missed this.

message 40: by Chrissie (last edited Mar 03, 2011 10:01AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Jeanette and Lisa, this is very disturbing. I am so appreciative that you thought of this point. This would mean that I must by my Kindle from the US b/c has more ebooks than Furthermore they maybe do not even let my buy it from the US. They might force me to purchase it from the UK. This also means I cannot buy books from! I am shocked. Yes, I absolutely must check into all this. Don't you think this sucks big time?! What about people that want to read ebooks in different languages! Jeeze.

message 41: by Barbara (new)

Barbara I am reading all of these entries regarding Kindle, etc., feeling very grateful that my life is so uncomplicated by these electronic gadgets. I'm still in the hardcover book stage, don't own a blackberry (or whatever they are) and my cell phone lives in the glove compartment of my car for emergencies only!!

message 42: by Chrissie (last edited Mar 03, 2011 11:35AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Lisa, it is better I get answers to all these question now rather than later. I was originally against Kindle because I did not want to buy at Amazon, but it seems to be the best machine. Does anybody know where people buy their sony ebooks? Eclipse gave me a store she buys her ebooks in. I will go check and see what they have....... Maybe the Sony is readable for my eyes. I must try and see where Sony readers buy their books. Hayes has a Sony and Eclipse gave me a site. Back to work....

Chrissie Barbara, i wouldn't go near ebooks if I had good eyes. I am not complaining. Everybody has something to deal with. I hate my mobile too b/c it is too little to read. Same old problem in another form.

message 44: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, Buying your Kindle from the U.S. site wouldn't make any difference. I think you still couldn't buy your books from it. Buying books is a receiving over the airways thing and that's probably why you must do it closer to home.

Chrissie, Is there a local agency for those with poor eyesight (not just the blind) that might have more information about all this?

I'd write to the US and UK Amazons and B & N and maybe Sony the company and get as much info as you can.

I'd go for most books you want to read and then ask the ereader maker what they could do to enhance the machine for you. External light, proper font & color settings, etc. etc.

Good luck Chrissie.

I'd also start posting in those groups and I can also ask my Danish friend (I think her vision is fine though) what she has and how easily she can get books.

And, let me know if I can do anything to help. I guess you can always email but with companies chances are I could also call them toll free.

message 45: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, Definitely talk more with Hayes. I'm wondering if Sony would be best for Europeans. I think all the machines are good enough. Everybody seems to reccomnend what they have!

message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

Good luck, Chrissie! Contact customer service at amazon, and Sony. I didn't even see any Kindle books on

Here is a e-book site that I found. It is based in France, and is available throughout the EU. They also list some readers, as well as allowing you to read on your PC.

message 47: by new_user (new)

new_user Sorry to butt in, Chrissie, but my friend just asked me this me too, and I thought I'd direct you to the same resources. She's an international reader too, but most booksellers have restrictions for international buyers, and some books simply aren't available (licensing).

The problem is first activating the Kindle and then purchasing books (once they're purchased, it's a simple matter to transfer via USB/Kindle for PC instead of wirelessly). You can set up an Amazon account with a US billing address -even if your credit card is not- through sites like (If the billing address fails, then you can purchase using gift cards.) Then download a free VPN like Hotspot Shield that will give your computer a US IP address.

Of course, I have not tried this myself as I'm in the US and I don't use an ereader, but I've researched it. One day, I expect I'll want to use this info since traveling can be the best time to use an ereader, LOL.

message 48: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, I just sent you 4 emails about this.

Including a link to the profile page of my Danish friend, who seems to have a Kindle. I think her eyesight is fine but she might be able to help you re book availability.

Jeannette and Chrissie, It takes a village. :-)

message 49: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan NewUser, Interesting. Gosh, we are one world at this point. Shouldn't this be easier no matter where in the world we are?!

message 50: by new_user (new)

new_user Definitely, Lisa! Hopefully, it'll get easier with time!

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