“The Thousand Hour Day” by W. S. Kuniczak
This is a remarkable historical novel. A must read! - Bob Johnson
This extraordinary novel takes place during the first thousand hours of WWII, the thousand hours in which Poland was conquered by blitzkrieg. It is a novel about the tragedy of a nation armed with little more than courage resisting one of the most powerful military machines of modern times; about men and women who struggle through fearful days and nights to preserve the reality they
believe in; about conquerors who are arrogant, frightened, and destructive; about the deliberately uncommitted observers, professional skeptics. And in a broader sense it is a novel about conflicts of value, conflicts that rage on no matter who wins on the battle field. In THE THOUSAND HOUR DAY, W. S. Kuniczak has created a richly textured cast of characters and woven them into the hours that spelled disaster for Poland.
Here are some excerpts:
Back home... well, it was different there. You didn't get much meat in your soup back home. Home was a small village in Polesie, a country of woods and wet fields and little streams and thatched roofs where autumn blazed red and yellow along the riverbanks. It was a place of colors and small sounds made by animals; and of smells. There were many smells, each of them good in its way. There were the fields and the wet grass and they had a fine smell. There was the hay in the barns and that had a special smell of its own. There was the smell of the thick black earth, and of the water, and of the old trees in the woods and the rushes by the river. There was the smell of horses and cows and chickens. All this was home. It was his father up before dawn and bedded down long after the sun went down. It his mother and his sisters and their cooking smells. It was the smell of cabbages and potatoes and acorns and the green smell of open cooking fires.
His mother making soup.
Not much meat there. mostly cabbage. Sometimes potatoes and often a mash made of corn, but mostly cabbage. Cabbages were plentiful and cheap. Potatoes could be sold for more than you could sell the cabbage. As for meat, well, what meat was there? Cows, pigs and chickens. Who would kill one those to eat? How could there be eggs to sell and milk to sell and shoat to sell if you killed them? So you didn't kill them. You got them to eat when they died but you didn't kill them.
And there were other things you did not kill at home. You didn't kill spiders because they brought luck. You didn't kill the mice because they were the horses of the little people and the little people kept your home from harm. You were especially good to the storks because they brought prosperity. You got cartwheels and you nailed them flat on top of poles and stuck them in your yard so that the storks could come and make their nests there. You were good to swallows because to have them in your roof was a sign of goodness.
- “The Thousand Hour Day”, W. S. Kuniczak, pp 67-68
-- It's different in America, I suppose. You have so many kinds of people that you can try something different. Here we have just one group of people who know anything and they know everything about everything in every field and it's always the same people with the same ideas who decide what is good in every field and what isn't.
-- We have them in America too. Loomis said. We call them critics. But no one ever called them particularly polite. In fact, the less polite they are the more their followers are inclined to trust them.It's something to do with human nature and the wish to pull down anyone who climbs above the mob. But nobody pays any attention to them if he is any good.
-- It's very different here. I think I would much rather have truth than politeness. But, I suppose the people who had been so polite to me had little choice. They were my father's old friends, and (she smiled a little) also my husband's, and didn't want to hurt my feelings.
Now it was his turn to be surprised and to show it: a fair exchange.
-- I didn't know you had a husband.
She laughed (a pleasant sound) and looked at him curiously.
-- Why are you laughing?
-- You have the look of a suitor confronted with black soup.
-- What does that mean?
-- It's a peasant custom. When a girl or her family reject a suitor they serve him a plate of blacksoup. That way nobody has to say anything unpleasant.
-- I'd rather be confronted with the family blunderbuss. It's a lot less pleasant and a damn sight less cruel.
-- Didn't you really know?
He said that he did not. That he had no idea. He didn't think she believed him, but she looked as though she wish she had.
-- Oh yes. I was married at seventeen to an old friend of my father's. I always thought he was waiting to marry my mother. I think she also thought it. He was my father's age.
-- No black soup?
-- None. And then he married me.
- “The Thousand Hour Day”, W. S. Kuniczak, pp 348-349
Everyone always wanted to be the hero. When I played with my buddies back in the 1950's, I always wanted to be someone heroic, like Davy Crockett, the Lone Ranger, Robin Hood, Zorro, or some other popular TV character -- and of course so did my buddies. Everyone wanted to be the cop, never the robber; the cowboy, but never the native warrior. Well, maybe sometimes...
Our neighborhood battles were always a blast. I especially liked defending my yard by throwing lumps of clay against DK and his army. (DK was the older boy who lived next door and the aggressor.) Grass was hard to grow in our backyards on Peckham Street so we always had plenty of clay for ammo. Clay was ideal for warfare; better than stones. When clay projectiles hit the ground or nearby buildings (DK's garage or our woodshed) they exploded into realistic dusty clouds of simulated smoke. If you didn't duck fast enough and happened to get hit by a chunk of clay, it didn't hurt too much; besides, blocking incoming projectiles with your garbage-can-cover shield was half the fun. Injuries were rare with both sides ultimately either declaring victory or a truce before suppertime. Hostages were promptly unbound and released per the rules of the Geneva Convention, and clotheslines returned to the shed. After supper, we played corkball across the street until dark.
As I mentioned, our heroes were mostly TV characters. I never much thought about who Polish boys wanted to be when they played their games until I came across this passage in a book I am reading about the first days of World War ll. The author describes his boyhood memories growing up in Poland before the war. It makes me wonder who boyhood heroes are/were in Poland and other cultures:
… Parks, grass, trees, roaring crickets: That was where one played. You said: Who will be the Marshal, and you said: I will be the Marshal. You be the Bolshevik (or the German or the Swede or the Tartar or the Cossack or the Moskał) and this bench will be the fortress of Zbarasz and the stump will be the cloister of Jasnagora, the Mountain of Light. And if you didn’t get to be the Marshal or Hetman Czarnecki or King John Sobieski – in which case you needed some additional equipment like (a) a Vienna to relieve from Turks and (b) CHRIS-TIANI-TY to save and (c) Turks and (d) a girl to play the role of CHRIS-TIANI-TY so that she could be saved – and got to be instead, Ulrich von Lichtenstein or some other Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights or Bismarck or Karol Gustaf Adolf or Tuhaj-bey or Bohdan Chmielnicki or (most unfortunate) Catherine the Great, you struggled and protested and sometimes wept because the outcome was inevitable: Your side would lose and you would be tied up with laundryline and led in a triumphal procession past the park benches where the mothers and the governesses sat. If you were the smallest there was no doubt what your fate was going to be. If you had to be something that you didn’t want to be it was best to be Ivan the Terrible. He did a lot of shouting and rolled his eyes a lot and had, in fact, a chance to hold his audience for a while before the inevitable caught up with him and he was bound and forced to march. But there was nothing to be said for being Catherine the Great, who was tied up extra tight and usually pummeled before it was her turn to be somebody else because she was not only a Moskał (which was bad enough) and a German (which was just as bad) but she was also the Great Whore (whatever that meant). You tried your best not to be Catherine the Great. But if the bigger boys felt particularly mean they might insist on being Kosciuszko or Prince Jozef Poniatowski, and that called for a Catherine. Not necessarily from the point of view of historical accuracy, but from the point of view of bigger boy’s meanness. And then the day, which had lost much of its brightness early in the morning, would lose more. You would say that no, you wouldn’t be Catherine the Great, that you couldn’t be, because you were you and nobody like you…could ever possible be anything but the Polish Hero.
- “The Thousand Hour Day”, W. S. Kuniczak, pp 532-533