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Are My Roots Showing? - by Karola Gajda

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These days, nearly everyone knows a Pole. You might have a Polish cleaner, or have used a Polish builder or you might have been served by a Polish waitress in your local cafe. You might have even learnt the odd word of Polish - ‘dziendobry’ (pron: jen-dobri) for ‘hello’ and ‘nazdrowie’ (pron: naz-drov-yeah) for ‘cheers’. A recent census showed that over half a million Poles live here and that Polish is the second most spoken language in England and Wales.

It hasn’t always been like this. Sixty years ago, Poles were much more of a rarity. Around 140,000 came over after the war. These immigrants settled, had families and integrated as best they could. Today the children of these post war Poles are adults. They’ve had a hybrid upbringing, learned Polish as well as English and are familiar with both cultures. They’ve watched, with wonder, the Iron Curtain fall, and Poland move from communism and capitalism, from closed borders to open ones.

In ‘My Polish Roots and other Vegetables’, we follow one such British-born Pole. Thirty-nine-yearold Magda Majchrowska bucks the trend of Poles coming here and goes to live in Poland. She leaves her comfortable life in London to teach English in Warsaw.

Magda wants to dig around her roots, piece together her family’s past and experience modern Polish life, a far cry from the Poland of the seventies and eighties. No more queues, no more empty shops - now Poland has shops filled with the latest fashions and technology. 

When Magda’s possessive Mama learns about her move to Warsaw, she doesn’t know whether to laugh of cry. She’s losing her baby, but her daughter’s spell in Poland may also fulfill her secret wish - for her to meet a Polish husband. 

Magda settles into her new life in one of central Warsaw’s high rise blocks. She hooks up with her crabby cousin Dagmara who scorns all things British and who still bears grudges for having to wear Magda’s cast-offs, sent in parcels by Mama during communist times. She finds unexpected friendship with Polish plumber Jacek and she also starts to look after her elderly Aunt Basia (AB) who lives in the flat above. AB lived through the tragic and valiant Warsaw Uprising of 1944. 

During the uprising, AB lost her fiance and never remarried. 

Magda’s temporary uprootedness enables her to create new experiences and refresh relationships new and old. When Mama comes to stay out of the blue, Magda learns more about her deportation to Siberia by Stalin in 1940, an almost forgotten period of Polish history. AB also looked after Mama when she returned, an orphan, and there’s an emotional reunion.

'Are My Roots Showing?' is a novel about identity, family, war and chance and the fleetingness of life and love. It blends comedy and tragedy, history with present day Poland and humorously compares British ways with Polish ways. 

In a Europe that has never been so mobile and fast-changing, Magda learns how history stillaffects the present, and that where there are roots, new shoots can grow.

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