We have Marcy – Poland has Marzi
However, wisdom is not the sole providence of the old. The colloquial idiom “Out of the mouths of babes (oft times come gems)” reminds us children occasionally say remarkable or insightful things.
A brand new book just translated into English titled Marzi is based on recollections of a little girl growing up in communist controlled Poland. Memoirs pertaining to quality of life, economic turmoil and government oppression seem less tainted when it is expressed through the eyes of a child rather than the opinions held by mature adults.
Chronicling her experiences by processing the meaning of everyday life and the events that unfold are presented as a series of vignettes using cartoon panels. It’s not a kid’s comic book, but rather intended for grown up readers.
From an interview with Cafébabel (a European magazine) the author Marzena Sowa explains, “Sometimes readers find it surprising that besides strikes, usually associated with ‘Solidarity’, people also had a regular life. I mean, going to school and to work, children playing in the courtyards, holidays. My comics won’t age. Even twenty years on you will find something new, something for yourself. We were all children, and we all had some wishes that never came true; I was always dreaming about getting a Barbie doll from Pewex (communist-era stores which sold Western goods in exchange for Western currencies).”
She also dreamed about living in France, free from communist rule.
The purity of a child’s unadulterated innocence is perfectly captured in drawings and words as Marzi struggles to understand what is going on in her country and what her parents are talking about. The little girl is illustrated with huge eyes, which reflects her innocent perspective and is much more engaging than could ever be expected from a plain text book.
From birth through fifth grade Marzi is a witness to Solidarność and the revolutionary reawakening of freedom that made it successfully through a terrible period of martial law.
Aside from what was happening politically, there is a private peek into Marzi's demanding relationship with her mom, and what was expected of children in Poland during the 80s.
Kids at a young age are not equipped to understand the consequences of or make conclusions on the human condition. Prior to defeating socialism fruit, candy and sugar were so rare that when a store took delivery of such items, she and her family would wait hours in line hoping by the time they got served there was still some left for them to buy.
Marzi doesn't really understand why things are the way they are. She can tell the adults are unhappy, but no one will bother to explain what's really going on.
As a sensitive only child, she tried to make a pet of the carp her father bought and kept in the bathtub of her crowded apartment until it was time to kill it so the family could feast on it for days.
It was poles apart from the world that we as Americans experienced as children. Wishing for a color TV, working in farm fields with her grandparents and chewing on window putty because she couldn’t get gum makes you stop and think how incredibly different it really was.
The shortages, brute force of government and frightened parents crowding the hospital with their children as radioactive contamination spread to Poland from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster are just part of Marzi’s memories.
Though her childhood is filled with adversity, other recollections are happier. There was joy in tagging along with her father at demonstrations and the hope raised by a state visit from native son Pope John Paul II.
Marzi observes that adults really don’t talk about the fall of Communism even though it was Poland that first broke the grip of Soviet tyranny. It was accomplished without a single windowpane being broke. Maybe that’s because in Poland it was done with finesse, quietly and nonviolently unlike the dramatic breaking down of the Berlin Wall in neighboring Germany.
Marzi was born at a time when Poland was undergoing some big changes. She watched it rebel. She watched it dream. And she saw its dreams come true.
Given the current climate of turmoil in our country, I can’t help but wonder if 20 years from now there will be another Marzi painting a picture of how thing were in 2012 - Trying to make sense out of how adults could have screwed everything up.
A quick way to buy this book is to click on Marzi at PolishToledo.com.