Push Not the River, by James Conroyd Martin, is a historic, romantic novel written somewhat in the grand tradition of Doctor Zhivago or Gone With the Wind. To call it “fiction” would do it no justice at all–it is set in late 18th Century Poland, in the years including the 3rd of May Constitution and leading up to the third partition of Poland in 1792. But it is also based on deeper history and true story, on the unpublished memoir of Anna Maria Berezowska.
In a sense, it is a grand novel of romance and intrigue, but on a deeper level, it provides a sense of the place of strong women in the history of Poland. Indeed, during the 125 years of the partition (and non-existence as a country) of Poland, it was in large part the matriarchy that kept alive the sense of Polish nationalism and pride which allowed Poland to emerge from World War I as a sovereign nation. Historic figures such as Tadeusz Kościuszko, (the last King) Stanisław August Poniatowski, and Russian Empress Catherine are woven throughout the fabric of this story, but it is the strong character of Anna and Zofia (cousins, but often at secret odds with each other), the main characters, that bring the story to life, woven around their trials and tribulations. The story is honest which makes it stark and tragic at times. Twists and turns of the storyline will keep you entertained and guessing. It’s not all pretty, it’s not all happy, but all along, you will learn a bit about late 18th century Polish culture, society, and politics–the good and the bad.
This is a heartwarming book and–good news–only the first in a trilogy of books Martin has written. I cannot wait to read the next two. This book kept me engrossed every bit of the way. I was impressed with how historical fact was interwoven seamlessly with the plot. The characters were wonderfully developed and seemed to leap off the page at me–I could almost see and feel and hear them and I felt totally drawn into the storyline, almost as if I was there, silently watching every event, every emotion, listening to every conversation.
I would heartily recommend this book on many levels. I’d previously given it as a Christmas gift to one of my sisters, and she dutifully passed it on to the others and to my sister-in-law–they all absolutely loved it (and the sequel too, which I plan to read soon). If you like romance, if you appreciate the place that strong woman have played in the course of history, and/or if you are interested (as I certainly am) in all things Polish, then you will absolutely love this novel. Once I started it, I had a hard time putting it down. It has my highest recommendation. I hope you love it, too! And by the way, it is available on Kindle, too–that’s how I read it!