Happy September everyone! As schools reopen and people head back to sports practice for the first time since March, I’m sending you all happiness and love.

I don’t understand what’s going on in the world right now, but I do know that everything feels strange.

One activity that consistently gives me clarity is reading. Reading centers me and allows me to explore another world for a little bit- I just finished Olive Kitteridge, a collection of stories about residents in the coastal town of Crosby, Maine! In college, I dedicated a lot of time to reading assigned texts (This is what happens when you take journalism, English, and art history courses- I remember I had to read Wuthering Heights in one week back in sophomore year!) I’m finding that I have more time to read post-grad, and I love it.

A habit I’ve been trying to stick to is reading for 15 minutes a day, no matter what happens. I like to read before bed because it’s a chance to unwind and it eases me into sleep.

In this time when travel plans are up in the air, travel lovers may find solace in a good book and can be transported to a different country. George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire series that was later adopted into the Game of Thrones TV show, says, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” Reading gets you out of your head for a little bit, I promise.

While Americans can’t travel to countries that are members of the European Union just yet, we can curl up with a blanket and a good book that takes place in one of the European countries. I’ve recently read some books set in Poland. The land that gave us Fryderyk Chopin, Marie Curie, and Robert Lewandowski (Um, did anyone else see how Bayern Munich won the Champions League title- their sixth one- last month?!) No hiking in the Tatras Mountains just yet, but you can replace mountain views with an Olga Tokarczuk book.

Today’s travel & lifestyle post will describe some books set in the country that’s the world’s biggest exporter of amber.

  1. anna and the swallow man by gavriel savit

Savit’s debut novel follows a seven-year old girl named Anna Łania that knows several languages- Polish, Russian, Yiddish, German, French, and English. She even understands a bit of Ukrainian, Armenian, and Carpathian Romany. When the Nazis invade the country on September 1st, her father, a professor of linguistics at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, gets sent to a prison and then to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Anna is now under the care of Herr Doktor Fuchsmann, but she escapes and meets the Swallow Man in the forest.

The two then travel through the forest, escaping the dangers that are linked to being in a Nazi-occupied country.

The concise, sharp writing of Savit is what makes this book memorable. Savit creates an engrossing page-turner and is able to break down the Kraków events for readers. I think the best historical fiction books are the ones that don’t feel like a history lesson. Savit was an actor that worked in a restaurant while he was working on this book, so it was inspiring to learn about his persistence.

As I read, I like to highlight quotes or write them in a notebook. Here are the quotes from this book that stuck out to me:

” Each man is the steward of his own show.”

“Human beings are the best hope in the world of other human beings to survive.”

“A riverbank goes wherever the riverbank does. It never had to ask which way, but only flows along. Yes?”

2. the kommandant’s girl by pam jenoff

This is another book set in Kraków that strikes the soul. After the Nazis invade, 19 year old Emma Bau’s husband vanishes to help the Resistance. The Resistance helps Emma escape the ghetto, and Emma is sent to live with Jacob’s Catholic cousin, Krysia.

Emma adapts to a new lifestyle, changing her name to Anna Lipowski and learning about Catholic traditions. Krysia and Anna also care for an orphaned Jewish boy named Łukasz, the son of a rabbi killed by the Nazis.

After going to a dinner with Kommandant Richwalder, Anna is offered a job as his assistant. The Resistance encourages her to take this position, as she can disclose news from the enemy.

This book stands out because of the ethical issues. Kommandant Richwalder (He falls in love with Anna!) works for people that loathe the Jewish people, yet Anna wants to help her country by trying to find any information that’s vital for the Resistance. The vivid description of Kraków made me feel like I was right there walking with Anna. Pam Jenoff worked at the State Department and was sent to the U.S. Consulate in Kraków, so she’s done an extensive amount of research about this period in history and is extremely well-versed.

Here are some notable quotes:

“It’s as though for just a few minutes her flawless exterior cracked open a bit, and I could see the love and hurt inside.”

“I’m so sorry. I love you. I never could have hurt you.”

3. flights by olga tokarczuk

Flights is a collection of 116 short pieces, all told by an anonymous woman traveler. Some stories are set in Poland, while others take place in Moscow, Croatia, and Austria. Each story examines what it means to be in constant motion, making it a captivating read for travelers.

The published book in Polish was called Bieguni. Bieguni refers to roamers that believe staying active was paramount to escaping evil. What a fitting title.

Tokarczuk, the recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature, won the Man Booker International Prize for Flights. All I could think about when reading Flights was how intelligent this woman is. It takes someone special to write such a unique piece. This isn’t a traditional novel, and that’s what makes it so distinct.

I think I highlighted every other paragraph in this work, that’s how much the quotes spoke to me. Here are some of them. It’s my sincere hope that these quotes resonate with all of you travelers too-

“Standing there on the embankment, staring into the current, I realized that—in spite of all the risks involved—a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity.”

“Move. Get going. Blesses is he who leaves.”

“Drawing is never reproducing – in order to see, you have to know how to look, and you have to know what you’re looking at.”

“Nothing is innocent, and nothing is insignificant, it’s all a big endless puzzle.”

“There is too much world, so it’s better to concentrate on particulars, rather than the whole.”

“Someday he would write his memoirs, when his adventures had arranged themselves into a suitably attractive package.”

“They weren’t real travelers: they left in order to return. And they were relieved when they got back, with a sense of having fulfilled an obligation.”

“It is widely known, after all, that real life takes place in movement.”

“One discovers, and names. Conquers and civilizes.”

“What makes us most human is the possession of a unique and irreproducible story, that we take place over time and leave behind our traces.”

“She often reflected on how her life had turned out, and she was coming to the conclusion that the truth was simple: men needed women more than women needed men.”

An addendum: Warsaw 44

Before you go, I also have a Polish movie recommendation! I was browsing through Amazon Prime Video to see the movies offered, and stumbled upon Warsaw 44.

I watched this movie on a Friday at the height of lockdown in April and it was…emotional. But it’s a story that needs to be told. The movie chronicles the efforts of the Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising, the largest World War II military operation organized by any resistance movement. Originally planned to take place over the course of three days-starting on August 1st- the uprising was fought for 63 days. Over 80% of Warsaw was destroyed.

In the 2014 movie, Stefan joins the uprising with his friend Kama (who he begins to have feelings for). He’s also introduced to another fighter called Biedronka (Ladybird). Non-stop fighting begins in the thirty-minute mark of the movie. Jan Komasa wrote the screenplay in 2006, and the movie premiered on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.


That’s all for now! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Goodreads! The next books set in Poland that I plan to read are We Were the Lucky Ones, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Home Is Nearby, A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising, The Pianist, and Warsaw 1944: An Insurgent’s Journal of the Uprising.

I also plan to read The Witcher, a series of fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. A note in a Lake Placid bookstore said that it’s Lord of the Rings meets Games of Thrones. There’s also a Netflix series based off the books, so I’m adding that to my watch list. I also added The Woods, a mystery thriller about a Warsaw prosecutor determined to find out about how his sister went missing in a summer camp back in 1994, to my watch list.

What are the books you’ve read recently? Let me know your book recommendations in the comments, I’d love to know your favorite books because I’m always on the hunt for new books to read!

I’d also love to do a future blog post about my favorite books set in New York State!

Happy fall everyone.

All my love,

Maya 💓