Saturday, November 7, 2015

John H. Byk and With Poland Behind Me

From the preface to the book:

It has been over a quarter century since I visited Poland in the summer of 1985. I
have many relatives here in the States that frequently travel there and I am aware
of the tremendous changes that have taken place in the country that the British
historian, Norman Davies, refers to as the "cockpit of Europe." Included as part of
the Schengen Agreement, Polish citizens are now free to travel Europe without
restriction as they were once forbidden while under Soviet control. However, in
spite of their westward cultural inclinations and support of American military
efforts in the Middle East, Poles are still treated as third world citizens when it
comes to visa applications in the United States. Despite the improved standards of
living and democratic government that Poland now enjoys after decades of
communist oppression, the country is still treated as a pawn or potential killing
field in the continuing Great Game between NATO and Russia and countries still
culturally tied to the former Soviet Union. Poles are not so quick to forget the
abusive history against them, especially with regards to the Germans and the
Russians, as the world may like. Polish roots run deep and that's why they have
managed to survive as a distinct linguistic and cultural society for centuries despite
countless attacks, massacres and rapes from foreign intruders. A true Pole is like a
perennial plant that can remain buried under the soil in the harshest conditions,
waiting for the slightest opportunity to sprout again, defiant and confident that
faith, tradition and custom will provide the necessary impetus for survival. They
are hard working, proud people who are not afraid to get their hands dirty and
clean up the mess others have left for them in order to provide a better future for
their children, even if it forces them into a temporary exile for economic reasons.

But one thing is certain. No matter how far a Pole travels from the motherland, his
heart remains rooted in the soil of his ancestors, anchored firmly in the memory of
what was once a sprawling empire that dominated central Europe, protecting the
gates of civilization from barbaric forces that have repeatedly attempted to crush
the resistance of a fiercely proud culture that asks only to be left alone in order to
cultivate prosperity and democracy. As the Polish proverb says, "As long as there's
a chicken in the pot cooking, Poland will always survive."
This illustrated travelogue, which I composed during my graduate student years at
Northern Michigan University, is a stark reminder of Poland's most recent, darkest
days and a personal journey of self discovery that reaffirms my pride and cultural
heritage as a first generation American, born of Polish immigrants who instilled
values of determination, reflection and sober pragmatism in me that has helped me
to endure personal struggles in my own life with courage and optimism, always
reminding me that faith, humor and honor are virtues that must carefully be
nurtured like a constant gardener.

Psycho Sam Uhl tells how to kill your literary agent in this comedy of horrors

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