The incredible, yet little-known, history of Poland makes for an intense introduction to A Strange Outcome. Constantly troubled by powerful and oppressive neighbours, the Poles have had a rough time of it, to say the least. Their country has been repeatedly carved up, divvied out and reclaimed – even, at times, to the point of geographical oblivion.
The life of the autobiographer is fittingly tumultuous and disordered. He begins life as Jan Wojciechowski, the youngest child of a large, happy and wholesome Polish family. However, when Jan is six years old, Stalin’s conquering forces invade the country (which is actually already under siege by the Germans). His father is murdered and the rest of his family imprisoned in a “gulag” or Russian labour camp. Millions of other Poles perish (directly and indirectly due to the Russians’ actions) during this time in what the author refers to as “the unknown holocaust”.
Indeed it has been kept on the down low; when the young refugee, surviving against all odds, is finally released from the camp and taken to New Zealand to start a new life, it is only the Germans who are publicly blamed for Poland’s woes. There is no recognition of the fact that the Russian invasion following that of the Germans caused its fair share of misery and suffering as well due to the affable relationship New Zealand then had with good old Uncle Joe.
This first part of Jan’s life, including the historical depiction of his country, was the most interesting part of the story, and it really was interesting. I don’t think I’d be alone in my ignorance of Poland’s amazing history and for this the autobiography is worth taking up. However, it’s downhill from here. Unless of course you’re passionately interested in the intricate workings of new businesses in mid 20th century New Zealand, which you very well could be and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Plebs like myself however, will find themselves skimming freely through these mind-numbing chapters. Jan, now John, integrates himself into New Zealand society and becomes quite the liberal success story. And we’re treated to a well illustrated description of New Zealand’s political and economic climate in this era.
As for the writing of the book; passable. But there was something odd about the author obviously writing about himself in the third person, although to be fair, he did co-write in with another author, Allan Parker.
Although part one is definitely worth reading, part two lets this autobiography down significantly. As Jan transforms himself into John, the life he creates for himself as a kiwi business entrepreneur, while admirable, is quite unspectacular and certainly not worth reading about in such great detail.