In This Review

Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968
Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968
By Marci Shore
Yale University Press, 2006, 480 pp.

"This book," Shore writes, "is a cultural and intellectual history, a biography of a milieu, and a post-Cold War exploration of Marxism as a belief system." The milieu is of the 1920s avant-garde Polish literati, who passed from a self-indulgent Dadaism and futurism to a deadly serious radical Marxism -- deadly for the many of them who survived Polish prisons only to be hounded or murdered in Stalin's Soviet Union. Some returned to Poland after World War II, their hopes intact; others were scattered to Europe and North America. Shore creates an intimate portrait of star-crossed idealism by reconstructing the history around the fate of two dozen personalities, such as the poet Wladyslaw Broniewski and his first wife, Janina, writer, journalist, party activist; Antoni Slonimski, Skamander poet, gone for the war, back to support the postwar communist regime, then dissident; and Wanda Wasilewska, novelist, powerful political go-between for Stalin in wartime Moscow. Because the history is so personal and anguishing, one finishes the book as exhausted as when closing the cover of an epic novel.