During and after the Second World War, 200,000 Poles were given leave to remain in the UK as thanks for their help during the conflict – this book is a fictional account of just one of those families. Set during the 1960s and 1970s, The Black Madonna of Derby traces the story of the Baran family living in a provincial town in England. Their seemingly ordinary existence hides secrets of past betrayal, madness, and tragedy.
The story focuses on three generations: the elderly grandmother whose proud Polish patriotism hides dark events from the past that affect the present, the mother whose tries to meld her past life in war-torn Poland and Germany with her new life in England and the granddaughter who lives a double life culturally and linguistically – Polish at home and English outside.
The swinging sixties in London is vividly recreated, as is the hardship of life under communism in the Poland of that time. This book is unique in that there are no other novels dealing with the story of second generation Poles in the UK. It is a story that deserves to be told, a story of a group of people who have had little attention in the literature. Listen to what they have to say.
When I was asked to take part in the audible blog blitz for this novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The information about the book intrigued me. I am pleased that I got the chance to listen to this book.
The narrator, Claire Nicholls has a very soothing voice and conveys the story in a clear way which made it easy to follow.
Moving onto the book itself, it focuses on three generations of women from the same family. It is an insight as to what it was like for immigrants after the second world war and the things they had to endure on a daily basis.
Although set in the 60’s and 70’s, this had a contemporary feel to it. I found it interesting to look at the family dynamics and the secrets and lies we hold secret, even from family. It intrigued me as to how these women interacted with each other and how their own childhood and experiences (some of which were horrific,) influenced their choices throughout the story. All of these women are hiding something of themselves for fear of shame and I feel a lot of their personalities are relatable.
I think out of all of the characters, I was drawn to Wanda the most. There was just something about her. I wanted to give her a hug.
The book is not an easy listen. It raises the subject of immigration, how badly people were treated as immigrants of this country, even if they were born here. It also looks at religious and political aspects. These are all subjects that are relevant today and it tells it from a different perspective which I found very interesting and compelling.
As usual, I don’t want to give too much away so there is not a lot more I can say about it.
I really recommend this book, whether you chose to get it via Audible or as an eBook. It’s a very thought provoking novel and I feel it is very much worth a read/listen.
The daughter of a Polish father and English mother, Joanna Czechowska was born in Derby and studied history at University College London. She now works as a journalist. The Black Madonna of Derby, published in Polish under the title Goodbye Polsko, is her first novel.
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