Full Circle
A Homecoming to Free Poland
by Radek Sikorski

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
Simon & Schuster: New York, 1997
276 pages

also titled —
The Polish House
An Intimate History of Poland

Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, 1997
304 pages

January 2005

Poland versus its occupiers

Between the American and British editions of Radek Sikorski's autobiography of his A Homecoming to Free Poland we have two titles and two subtitles, and all are usefully descriptive. I'll refer to it simply as Full Circle, but the book is packed.

Over the centuries, Polish history is criss-crossed with multiple partitions and occupations by the Teutonic Knights, Sweden, Russia, Prussia, Austria-Hungary, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. Finally after the Soviet disintegration, Poland is free and independent, and has joined the ranks of the democracies.

What has this meant to the people on the ground? Sikorski weaves a complex tapestry; let's look at some cross-sections through it.

At home in Polska

The literal Polish house of the British title of this book is the country manor of Chobielin near Sikorski's hometown, Bydgoszcz. Sikorski and his parents bought the Communist-dilapidated Chobielin and began its restoration, and in relating this Sikorski details a local cross-section of Polish history. But do not mistake the book for a kind of do-it-yourself, fix-it diary of a manor building and grounds. Sikorski effectively and even entertainingly uses Chobielin as a locus to discuss an amazing variety of topics from Imperial German land records to Communist administration.

Another set of cross-sections in Full Circle is composed of Radek Sikorski's elder relatives' adventures and travails between the World Wars, during the Nazi occupation in World War II, and during the Soviet occupation thereafter. These themes range from living under various command economies, Reich policies, the Resistance, local as well as infamous concentration camps, the Katyn Forest massacre of the Polish officer corps. There is a lot here, history that often is as compelling as a well-researched novel.

Dissident; in exile; government minister

In other cross-sections we have Sikorski's own education growing up in Communist-ruled Poland (he was born in 1963), the rise of Solidarity in the Gdansk (Danzig) shipyards, Sikorski's father listening to Radio Free Europe, Sikorski as a youthful dissident followed by his exile in England, and eventually his return and participation in the new Polish government as Deputy Minister of Defense. Radoslaw Sikorski (as he is more formally named) has a participant's strong views of Lech Walesa and other Polish government figures, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher.

Sikorski is very much an advocate of freedom, capitalism, and Poland's integration with Europe. He makes it easy to empathize with Poland's and the other East European nations' passion for freedom and Western values, after centuries of too-often brutal struggle, capped by decades of dictatorship.

So Full Circle is quite a complex set of history and geography and economics, Polish and German and Russian and local. A full circle of intriguing perspectives, with many surprises. Yet Sikorski weaves it all together tightly and humanely.


© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson

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