Praise for Push Not the River
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“Historical fiction: story of 2 years of young Polish countess (Anna) set against 18th century Poland and its struggle with partitioning as it seeks to become Europe’s first democracy! Captures indomitable spirit of Polish nobility, passion, and faith! Filled with mystery, romance, adventure–historical saga that transcends every ethnicity and resonates with contemporary notes–compelling writing–based on a true story–don’t miss it!” – Jane Glaser, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, Milwaukee
“At the end of the 18th century, the Polish nobility watched nervously as French peasants toppled their king. Some nobles advocated reforms extending rights to the lower classes, while others insisted on maintaining absolute power even though it entailed aligning themselves with Catherine, Empress of Russia. Against this tumultuous background, Anna Maria Berezowska faces her own turmoil. Left an orphan at 17, she moves to her aunt and uncle’s estate and meets Jan Stelnicki, a count who supports reform. Unfortunately their mutual attraction is resented by Anna’s cousin, Zofia, who wants Jan for herself. Anna’s life is further complicated when she is forced into a marriage with a man interested only in her fortune. Even though misunderstandings and coincidences keep Anna and Jan apart, their ultimate union is as certain as Poland’s demise. Based on an actual 18th century diary, the narrative sometimes sags under too much historical detail but holds readers because of the cast of well-developed characters and the need to see how Anna and her young son will survive the latest crisis. While public library patrons of Polish ancestry may feel a special affinity for this first novel, other historical romance fans will enjoy it as well.” –Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University Library, in Library Journal, October 2003
”Push Not the River contains all the sweep and romance of the classic epics such as Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago, with a heroine who remains strong in the face of both personal and political tragedy. An enthralling tale of courage, survival, and hope, Anna Maria’s story is at once timeless and timely.” India Edghill, author of Queenmaker
“James Conroyd Martin’s vivid historical novel captivates the reader with its sweeping depiction of a bygone society on the cusp of violent change. Combining politics with intrigue and romance, Push Not the River gives us a glimpse into the turbulent era of late eighteenth century Poland and its people. Aristocrats and peasants, patriots and traitors come alive in this story, and the Polish soul is beautifully illuminated through ancient myths, folkways, and wisdoms. With his juxtaposition of the personal and political, Martin weaves a compelling tale of transformation—both of a remarkable young woman and her remarkable nation.” –Jennifer Donnelly, author of The Tea Rose
“Martin’s novel transports the reader two hundred years into Poland’s glorious past, a world of castles and manor houses. One woman’s life provides a metaphor for a country which—with the Third of May Constitution—was the first to attempt democratic reform in modern Europe. While the attempt failed, Push Not the Riversings of a people’s pride and indomitable hope.” –Mr. Jan Lorys, Director of The Polish Museum of America, Chicago
“Enthralling.Push Not the Riveris a wonderful epic saga in the grand romantic style. The plot never lets up; it gallops at break-neck speed through a vividly portrayed historical landscape, against which we see the triumphant transformation of Anna from an adolescent into a strong and powerful woman.” –Jane Feather, bestselling author of Kissed by Shadows
Reviewer: Frances Drwal for Narod Polski and the Harvard Quarterly Life of Polonia
Push not the River is as intriguing and engrossing as its title.It is the true story of three years in the life of a young lady in a part of Europe which has long been overlooked or disregarded. Countess Anna Berezowska of Poland left a diary which, encased in wax, was passed on by her descendants through generations for over two hundred years.
The story unfolds in Poland toward the end of the eighteenth century, which was probably the most disastrous but momentous period of history Poland has experienced in its turbulent existence. In 1791, the Third of May Constitution was passed, granting freedom to peasant and noble alike. This first attempt by any European country at democratic reform was not to the liking of Russians and adjoining countries, and reprisals against Poland arose. Polish citizens were divided on whom to support. While Polish certain nobles vacillated, patriots fought for freedom. Kosciuszko and his peasant army won a great battle, but the war was lost and for 123 years, Poland was erased from the map of Europe.
As a member of nobility, young Countess Anna leads a sheltered, idyllic life, until at seventeen she tragically loses her parents. Left alone, she has no choice but to accept the plan of her aunt, now her guardian, Countess Stella Gronska, to leave her ancestral home in the country and come to live with her in Warsaw. Aunt Stella is a strong, wise woman, with a love for her country. Zofia, her beautiful and spirited but conniving daughter, thinks only of herself. Brother Walter mirrors Zofia, is a Russian mercenary and appears sporadically. Shortly after arrival, Anna meets Jan Stelnicki, a patriot involved in his country’s problems. Anna falls in love with him, but Zofia is also interested in him, and a conflict arises. Anna’s life now changes forever. Aunt Stella, unhappy with her children’s lives, turns to Anna and becomes her mentor. Anna becomes involved in politics, is attacked, suffers through an ill-fated marriage through Zofia’s manipulations, overcomes attacks on her life, gives birth to a son and is bestowed the title of Princess by the King of Poland. The political situation worsens, and once again Poland is invaded. Jan is fighting under Kosciuszko, battles ensue they win an important battle, but lose the war, which culminates in the total dismemberment of Poland as a nation.
Yet, life goes on Anna survives all of this amazingly. We see her developing into a mature young woman with a strong will, braver and wiser, following her heart, and understanding and involved with the problems around her, still possessing the qualities which make her so appealing. She emerges an indomitable heroine.
Mr. Martin has written a book that is completely absorbing. You will have difficulty putting it aside. The twists and turns of events, the lives of Anna, Jan, and the Gronski family amid invasions, the war, political and personal intrigues are masterfully interwoven as their story moves on, giving the reader a background in history as well as insights into the lives of people. The language is picturesque, the imagery haunting, and the touches of Polish life, traditions and customs are enriching and add authenticity. The spirit of Poles in adversity, bravery, and resilience seem to be inborn in Anna, Stella, and Jan. As they risk their lives for a seemingly losing cause, they still have hope and they eventually triumph, as history has proven.You don’t want to leave them, but keep up with their trials and feel their triumphs. As the book ends, Anna has just turned twenty – a whole new life before her. What happened later in her life?
Push not the River is a must for anyone of Polish descent it will make you proud of your heritage. It is also a great book for everyone the story of not only brave and proud individuals, but also of their indestructible and fascinating country and its history.
Reviewed for The Historical Novels Review (The Historical Novel Society, England)
Reviewer: Teresa Basinski Eckford
Push not the River is based on the real diary of Polish Countess Anna Maria Berezowska. It follows her life during four of the more turbulent years of Polish history, 1791-1794. Left an orphan at age 17, she moves in with her aunt, uncle and cousins. While there she meets and falls in love with their handsome neighbor, Count Jan Stelnicki, but their relationship is scuttled by her cousin Zofia with devastating results. The family moves to Warsaw after her uncle’s death and Anna Maria’s marriage to Zofia’s former suitor. Anna Maria never forgets Jan, who fights for Poland’s independence, but their love must wait as each deals with the turbulence in their personal lives.
The story is well paced and compelling, the historical detail plentiful yet not overwhelming, and the characters engaging and true to the period. In addition, the author accurately conveys the spirit of Polish national pride. The heroine’s many adventures seem almost too much, yet truth is stranger than fiction.
This novel reminded me of a Polish Gone with the Wind. Both novels cover turbulent periods of history, invading forces, and women left to fend for themselves who rise to meet the challenge with strength and courage.
Push not the River a Compelling Read
Reviewed by Florence Waszkelewicz Clowes, MLIS
For the Polish American Journal
The novel takes place in Poland during the rise and fall of the Third of May Constitution, 1791-1794, the first attempt at democratic reform in Europe. Neighboring countries are concerned and eager to gobble up Poland. Nobles themselves are unsure whom to support, as patriots bravely fight for freedom.
When Countess Anna Maria Berezowska loses her family at age seventeen, she is put in the care of her guardian Aunt Stella. In the strict customs of the time, a prearranged marriage of her cousin Zofia to Lord Anthony is soon to take place. Anna meets Jan, a young patriot, and falls in love with him, but Zofia manipulates events to force Anna to marry Antoni instead. Her recent rape by an unknown person and the death of her uncle are brushed aside.
Anna blossoms from a shy, naïve girl to a strong-willed woman who supports the cause and understands the political struggle that Jan, Kosciuszko, and others face.
The historical theme provides a solid background of events, offering insight to the manners, customs, and traditions of nobility and peasants alike. Based on the journal of Anna’s and handed down through her descendants, it provides a woman’s perspective of Poland at war, soon to lose its identity.
A compelling read of love, patriotism, treachery, and revenge, it will leave the reader wanting more. Highly recommended.
READING GROUP GUIDE QUESTIONS
The proverb “Push not the river: it will flow of its own accord” may be viewed
as one of twin themes. The other is expressed by Anna’s father: “Sometimes you
must put yourself in the way of destiny.” How is the interplay of these two ideas
illustrated in the story? Does one predominate?
- The fate of one’s country often influences the shaping of lives—and
characters. To what extent does Poland’s fate shape Anna? Zofia?
- How is the theme of a nation’s survival against all odds highlighted by
the lives of the characters?
- Jan tells Anna his God is in the grass, rain, flowers, trees, and sky—and
yet he is willing to convert to Catholicism for her sake. How is this
reflective of his character?
- Her intentions, schemes, and harmful actions notwithstanding, to
what extent does Zofia display positive traits?
- Crises in one’s life create and strengthen character. Which events—
loss of her parents, loss of Jan, an arranged marriage, Zofia’s schemes,
Walter’s actions, foreign attack, other?—affect Anna most in this way?
- How does the theme of women’s rights and roles come into play in this
late eighteenth century European story?
- In what ways do the principal female characters—Anna, Zofia, Aunt
Stella—underscore the theme?
- Readers often divide ranks when considering Anna and Zofia. To
whom were you drawn the most? Why?