The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo - William Kowalski
The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo
This book is an easy read. The story focuses on a Polish immigrant girl's struggle to find her place in the New World at a time when many Poles were moving to America in droves. Sixteen-year-old Aniela had never dreamed of opening a thriving bakery/restaurant when she moved with her mother and sisters to Buffalo, New York in 1908, but it happened. But now it's the twenty-first century, and what are her great grandchildren to do with a restaurant that is no longer appreciated?
William Kowalski is the best-selling, award-winning author of six novels and six Rapid Reads (shorter works for beginning adult readers of English). His first novel, EDDIE'S BASTARD, won the 1999 Rosenstein Award, the 2001 Ama-Boeke Prize, and occupied the #5 spot on the Times of London bestseller list. His fifth novel, THE HUNDRED HEARTS, won the 2014 Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. He has been nominated three times for the Ontario Library Association's Golden Oak Award. His books have been translated into fifteen languages.
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: Orchard Street Books (March 28, 2017)
A masterful blend of historical and modern fiction by a best-selling, award-winning author, THE BEST POLISH RESTAURANT IN BUFFALO chronicles a century of life in America for one humble Polish farm girl and three generations of her descendants in Buffalo, New York.
I have always enjoyed reading stories about the Polish immigrant experience, mostly in the hope of learning something about my own family's journey to America and the challenges they encountered upon their arrival. Don't we all want to learn more about our roots? Not surprisingly, I am especially interested in any and all stories of other Buffalo Poles and so the title of this book really caught my eye, so I ordered a copy right away. By the way, my grandmother's name was also Aniela and she and her husband, Jan Adamski, operated a similar establishment (a tavern) on Buffalo's East Side. Although Aniela, the book's main character, lived clear across town in the Black Rock neighborhood of Buffalo (where my son and his family now live), there are a multitude of similarities to which--not only I, but other Polish-Americans--can easily relate.
At times the tone struck me as being a bit irreverent, but I was willing to forgive the author for one or two indiscretions. Generally I get defensive when any attempts at humor are connected to the awful suffering Poles have endured throughout history, yet I found myself giving the author the benefit of the doubt more than once. Here is an example:
In those days, the restaurant was a warm, comforting, lively place, one of the cultural centers of Polonia in Buffalo. For many families, Angela's was the place you went to celebrate anything of importance: a christening, a first Communion, a wedding, a funeral. There was scarcely a weekend when it wasn't booked for some kind of function. In the early 1990's it had also
been the scene of four massive annual parties, the likes of which had rarely been seen in those parts. In each of those years, the Buffalo Bills had made it all the way to the Super Bowl, and each time the people of the city had rejoiced in much the same way the ancient Israelites must have partied when they finally stumbled into the Promised Land.
Every Pole of Black Rock, whether they had been born in this country or the old, possessed a long list of tragedies that had been tattooed onto his DNA, and which he mourned by emitting a constant, low-frequency sorrow. This was comprised of the effective expulsion of his people from their native land; The German slaughter of the Poles during the war; the Communist takeover following the war; and the four consecutive Super Bowl losses of the Buffalo Bills, from 1991 to 1994. Iggy could barely bring himself to think about those heartbreaking years, which had seemed so full of hope--1991, in particular, had seemed almost too good to bear, with the Berlin Wall having crumbled into dust and the Bills headed into the championship with an average of 26.75 points per game, the best in the league. -pp.60-61.
So did you think that was funny? I did.
I should also mention that not only is Aniela's immigrant story of interest, revealing how she must have felt living in a strange, new world with people from other cultures, but Iggy's story is equally compelling. Iggy is Aniela's great-great-grandson who struggled throughout his entire adult life trying to keep the family restaurant alive and relevant. Not an easy task.
The novel is fiction, however I can't image a good Polish restaurant not being popular in Buffalo even in this day and age. Nevertheless, most of the story rings true. I though it was a good read. I suspect William Kowalski is not trying to write the Great Polish-American Novel, but he is an excellent writer and I think you will enjoy this book, especially if you grew up in Buffalo.