A Warsaw Chronicle

A Warsaw Chronicle

by Carol Hebald


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Carol Hebald’s novel, A Warsaw Chronicle, depicts the moving portrait of Karolina Heybald, an American exchange professor at Warsaw University during the 1981 advent of martial law. Underlying the conflict between the Communist regime and Solidarity's struggle against it looms the threat of a Soviet invasion. In the midst of food scarcity and turbulent political upheaval, Karolina’s attempts to locate a missing first cousin entangle her in the fate of her brilliantly gifted student, Marek, the son of a duplicitous Communist official. Torn by conflicting loyalties—a poet in service to his conscience, a soldier under orders to the state—Marek’s only hope lies in Karolina’s valiant efforts to secure his fellowship at her home university.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780991261246
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2017
Pages: 174
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Carol Hebald taught creative writing at the university level for thirteen years before resigning to write full time. She has since published the novella collection, Three Blind Mice (Unicorn Press, 1989), the memoir, The Heart Too Long Suppressed (Northeastern University Press, 2001); and more recently four books of poetry: Delusion of Grandeur (2016), Colloquy (2015), Spinster by the Sea (2005), and Little Monologs (2004). Carol lives in New York and is currently working on a play about the Watergate heroine Martha Mitchell.

Read an Excerpt


Karolina in Warsaw

December 13, 1981

This morning when I rose, all the clocks had stopped. I dressed quickly and came out into the street.

It was a dark morning. Never, never was there such darkness. Rain poured down continuously, the coldest, gloomiest rain, threatening, and full of animosity. I had on a thin white raincoat. I wore no boots.

I must have walked over a mile. The shadows of houses oppressed me: Flat, tin-roofed structures rebuilt from the burnt-out ruins of the Second World War. Not one light was burning. It seemed all Warsaw was asleep. I felt stiff and hungry from the cold, and in such utter loneliness, I began mistaking my footsteps for a booted tread behind me. When I stopped, it stopped. I glanced around but saw no one. I kept walking. Then, checking behind me again, I glimpsed the hastily averted broadcloth of a gray military coat, whose owner had reversed course.

Reaching the corner, I turned to watch for traffic and crossed at a spot intersected by a boulevard I had never seen before. I didn't know where I was. I looked behind me and to both sides. The rain came down harder, as though the sea were all around me, and no one would know if I drowned.

Suddenly I stopped. There was Marek in military uniform beside me. My student Marek a soldier? I remembered that his father, whom I'd met briefly, wore a uniform, but he? Nor could I dismiss the thought that this gifted, overgrown child, a full head taller than I, had been following me. He opened his mouth to speak. My lightning glare stopped him.

"What is it you want?" I said finally.

"I? Nothing."

He was all wet. I noticed especially his mud-streaked boots.

"You haven't misplaced the assignment?" I asked.

"Assignment? There isn't any school! Professor, wait! Where are you going? You can't cross into the terminal. Nothing is moving. Don't you understand?"

I understood nothing.

"Stay!" he cried. "If you can't find words for others, why don't you speak to me? It's not my fault I love you."

But I was running away.

An armed officer blocked my path: "Who are you?" he asked in Polish.

"It's pani Professor Heybald," answered Marek, all out of breath.

"Pani Amerykanka?"

"Yes," I said.

"Passport, please." I fumbled in my purse, in my satchel. "Pani is diplomat?" the officer inquired.

"No!" protested Marek excitedly: "She's half-Polish. Her father was Polish."

"Your name is Heybald?"


"Come with me."

I looked to Marek, who stepped aside, unable to meet my eyes.

A room beetle-green in the morning light so dank with stagnant air that water stood in drops on the walls. I lay on a crude wooden bench. Day was admitted by a window with massive iron bars. The policewoman, Hanka, was searching my satchel. Armed milicjamen surrounded me. A buzzing electric light glared:

"Where was pani going?"

"Why did you come here to teach?"

"What are the names of your Polish ancestors?"

"Are you of Jewish origin?"

A cane struck along the corridor, rapped sharply at the door. Hanka rose and unlocked it with a key.

The Lieutenant limped briskly in. I recognized Marek's father. His outsized head cocked over me. I breathed the faintly pungent odor of a fox.

"Whom have I the pleasure of remembering?" he asked.

Silence. I received a slap in the face.

"Tell us your ancestors' names."

"I don't know!" I answered. "My father — Heybald — was from Krakow."

"Given name?" he inquired, reaching for pen and pad.

"Henryk. He died in New York when I was three."


"Merchant — a jeweler."

"And where was pani going this morning?" The Lieutenant was tapping his cane.

"I don't know."

Two pencils started scratching.

"What day of the week is it?" he asked.


"And the month?"

"Look it up."

"Pani!" he cautioned. "Remember where you are."

"Remember whom you're addressing, sir!"

At the sound of the strap, I bolted upright. The Lieutenant smiled, a supple, winning smile: "Professor has bad manners," he chided. "She loses too much her temper."

He motioned to his colleagues. With stiff little bows, they turned their backs on me.

Hanka spoke: "What is pani thinking?"

But pani wasn't thinking. A pigeon ruddered to the window sill, eyes frightened and starved. A hound dog bayed in the courtyard. I heard a carefully closed door.

The Lieutenant and his colleagues had left.

"Swallow this," said Hanka, handing me a small pink pill.


"Swallow it!"


She rose to slip a needle in my arm.

"How old is pani?" she asked me several moments later. Her voice was soft, gentle.

"Forty," I answered.

"Forty and still alone?"

"Excuse me?" I felt my tongue grow thick.

"Why pani came to Poland?" she asked, picking up a sweater she was knitting.

To what shall I confess? A need to know my heritage, my birthright as a Jew? To say goodbye to the father I never could forget; to find the house where he was born, some remnant of his early youth, a tree, a yard, a stone?

"Tell Hanka," she coaxed. "Go on."

No, I couldn't tell her; how could I tell her that for him, only for him, I'd dress in Polish garments, scrub the makeup from my face? In a sturdy pair of shoes, head erect, glance proud, I'd glide over cobblestones, stop strangers in the street to speak — above all, listen — with this cross around my neck to hear unedited Polish responses to Jews.

Instead, "I came to get away," I said.

"From what to what?" she asked, her knitting needles clicking.

"My life, my work, were at a crossroads, a standstill. Understand standstill?"


I have to shed this nightmare, begin again at the beginning.

September 21

On the day of my welcome last week, a beautiful September afternoon, I was ushered to Warsaw University to pick up my ration coupons for the month. With these, I can buy six pounds of meat, one of butter, two of kasha, sugar, and flour. For my pleasure, a fifth of vodka; for my hygiene, one small cake of soap that must last for two whole months. I also received in zlotys my first month's salary, far in excess of my needs.

I live on the fourth floor — yes, here, this whale-gray structure. Just around the corner stands the Church of the Holy Cross, the only church in Warsaw, I'm told, untouched by the Nazi invasion. Diagonally across, abutting the English Institute where I'll be teaching, is the main gate of Warsaw University. To its right, half a block up, is the back entrance of Victory Square. There, in 1979, Pope John Paul II addressed his compatriots in an open-air Mass that overflowed Ogród Saski, the park hereafter known as Saxon Gardens with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Back at my apartment, I view my spacious rooms. Through the alcove to the left is my bedroom. I sleep on that narrow daybed, and read at the mahogany table spanning the French windows over the kino sign. To the right is my combined study and living room. Here with the curtains half-drawn I'll spend my hours writing with time and space to breathe new landscapes for new poems. Time is all I want now: a light academic load, three short weekly classes, a handful of students in each.

There's a knock at the door. "Who is it?" I ask.

"Your Polish tutor!"

"Come in please, you're welcome!"

"Professor, my name is Pawel," announces a slight, dimpled young man.

"My name's Carol. Hello!"

"But Carol means Charles in Polish. Want to be known as Charles?" he asks.


"Then I am happy to meet Karolina." He bows and kisses my hand. "And you're visiting us from where?"

"From the University of Kansas, right in the middle of America, on the international academic exchange program."

"I am graduate student in Linguistics here, right in the middle of Europe."

"Here, let me take your things." I place his gray, worn cardigan and matching cap carefully over a chair.

"You know some little Polish?" he asks.

"Only very little."

"Say something, anything. Well?"

"You first," I plead.

"No; I am the tutor."

"Then szadem, Pawel!"

He looks askance at me: "You invite yourself to sit?" he asks.

"No, you sit."

"Let's both sit," he suggests. We enter my study laughing. "So: Dzien dobry! Good day! Repeat: Dzien dobry."

October 1

Why do I feel so happy today? Look: some boys are sweeping fallen leaves from the elm across the street. Above, the black, sharp pin of a cathedral is etched across the evening sky. Inside the worshippers are singing. In the yard a couple of trees are growing. And with all this dwell some birds that make a little music for me in the morning.

Among the pigeons that come each day to my windowsill is a great, fat cripple to whom the others pay homage by allowing him first to feed on the crumbs I provide. The great one devours them all as one by one the others fly away. See him flapping his short wing? His Majesty is waiting for more. And he wonders why I draw the curtains. I can't write when observed, not even by a bird.

October 5

A call from the United States Embassy: My books arrived there in error; would I come to pick them up? No sooner did I enter the compound than pani Monika, the Polish receptionist, asked me where I'd been. But surely she knows — she told me! — exchange professors have no embassy privileges. Only the Rollinses may shop at the Commissary and receive packages from the States:

"They're Fulbright scholars; I'm not," I reminded her.

"But they've been trying to reach you!" she whispered, taking me aside. "Do you want to share their maid? For twenty-five dollars a week she'll queue and clean for you."

"But they're paid in dollars, I in zlotys. Sorry, can't afford it."

"Well, at least we know where we stand." She seemed a bit put out. "So, you have your coupons? You know what you can buy?"

"Yes, thanks; I've already queued." In Poland I'll live as a Pole.

"School starts next week, remember. Oh, Professor!" She catches up with me at the door: "You're aware of our shortage of textbooks? Please don't forget to check them out of the library before each class, and to return them immediately after."

"I won't forget."

Heading home through the streets and parks, I am charmed by the smiles of strangers — such genuine warmth and concern. And the little children look like angels; not one whines or cries. Is there no candy for them? There is bread to eat. And Mama and Papa are kind. Still, in every shop window burn candles in memory of the dead.

October 19

Walking me home from Practical English class, my students Ewa and Marysia, flanked on either side of me, make me feel like a big mother hen. In front of the Church of the Holy Cross:

"If you don't go to Mass once a week," warns Marysia, "you're a bloody Communist."

"If you go more often," adds Ewa, "milicja take your name."

"Ewa, you exaggerate! I saw a milicjaman praying here yesterday," I say.

"Praying or spying on you?"

"Come on, Marysia! Can't a soldier hate war?"

"Not here!"

I want to ask her why, when Ewa interrupts:

"So you are happy, Professor?"

"Ewa, why do you ask me that?"

"Well, I've been meditating."

"Well, you meditate on your essay. It's already five days late."

"I know, I know," she sighs. We round the corner of my house.

What's that rumpus up the street?

"Crouch down — it's Marek," warns Ewa, watching him approach us.

I recognize their classmate, the tall, gawky boy who sits in back.

"Cock-a-doodle-do!" hoots Marysia: "Whistling down Traugutta Street twirling six rolls of toilet paper on a string. Where'd you get them — connections?"

"He's a Jew," whispers Ewa in my ear.

"Rat without a tail!" remarks a stranger, eyeing Marek's contraband.

"Three-eyes," adds Marysia.

"Toilet paper is so rare," explains Ewa, "we have to use Communist news."

"I know," I admit. "So do I!" Then, "Three-eyes?" I echo, bewildered.

Ewa explains: "Sometimes the angle of his glasses makes a third eye on his forehead."

"I can't picture that!" I exclaim.

Clk-clk-clk go Marek's heels on the pavement, approaching us proudly for spite.

"Bravo, Marek, bravo!" jeer the girls.

"Hello, Marek," I say quietly.

He reddens, bows — passes silently by.

"Look! There's Pawel ten paces behind," squeals Marysia. "Ewunia, fix your hair!"

"What? My Polish lesson already?" I glance at my watch.

"Pawel's your tutor?" cries Ewa, amazed.

"Yes. Didn't you know?"

There he stands in the sunlight, observing a breeze blow forward Ewa's dress sash of cherry-colored silk. She starts to speak to him about something in the daily sequence of their relations and sees his eyes dart to mine for a response. He admires her; is she a thing to be admired? She has quick, blue, berry-ripe eyes, a naturally quizzical expression. When she's embarrassed — oh, look how embarrassed! — she turns aside and nervously inspects her shoes.


Karolina at Work

"Wrong!" shouts Pawel.

"I give up," I sigh.

"Just oppose your instincts; you'll be fine."

"I see. So if the child is neuter and the fly feminine, what's the bug?" I ask.

Pawel laughs. "We don't have them here, not the invertebrate kind."

Pointing to the telephone, I mouth the question: "Is it tapped?"

He nods a little sadly, yes.

"And the apartment too?" I ask.

"Oh well, probably. Do you mind?"

"I mind the probably, yes." In fact, I'm ashamed to admit my fury at the prospect of not knowing if my every burp is being recorded. Clearly, Pawel has lived with this; I must be broken in. I put the kettle on for tea.

"You can't teach freely here," he warns, following me into the kitchen.

"Hand me that dish towel, please."

"It doesn't bother you?" he asks, tossing it over.

"I don't feel constricted yet."

"Really not? How do you find your students?" he asks.

"Aside from Ewa you mean?" He smiles, eyes kindly, full of fire: the spruce stance of a hare. "No vacuous faces there!" I answer. "But a simple neatness, an eagerness to learn — here, help me set the table. Well, I love them mostly. Though a few seem bitter, I suppose afraid."

"Afraid? We're fools, behind the times," he declares, "to endure so long with nothing, nothing but want and fear. Deprivation breeds corruption."

"And prosperity doesn't? Your divorce rate's a third of ours. And your streets are free of crime."

"There's nothing to steal," says Pawel wryly. Then, "Our loyalties keep shifting. Last month Solidarity was strong. We lose members daily now. Always we're changing our minds."

In Poland to live as a Pole: Be wholly this way one day, wholly that way the next?

He butters a slice of black bread: "Tell me something."

"What, Pawel?"

"How a country as young as yours, as naïve, and well, frankly as stupid, produces such sophisticated writers: Faulkner, Melville, Dickinson?"

"Oh, well! Maybe we're not as stupid as you think," I suggest. "Most of us know relatively little about physical suffering; about mental anguish, a great deal."


"... which is from where so much of the work springs."

"Interesting," he muses.

A pause. "Are all Americans naïve?" I ask.

"Of course not!"

"All spear carriers erect?"

"No! Nor all Poles fools. Don't be offended, please," he begs.

"I'm not! The kettle's boiling over." I pour out the tea. "Why are they mean to Marek?" I ask simply.

"Oh, Marek is very peculiar."

"Peculiar how?"

The telephone rings. It stops. It rings again; I pick up. No one's there.

"Why is that?" I ask.

Pawel is silent.

October 27

I stroll into my American Literature class, a Bible tucked under my arm. I open to Ecclesiastes and begin:

To everything there is a season

And a time to every purpose under the heavens ...

Someone yawns. I read through to the end of the passage:

A time to keep silent, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time for war and a time for peace.

I shut the Book: "What is the season for fanaticism?" I ask pleasantly.

"It doesn't say fanaticism," protests Jacek.

"But it does say 'everything,' and Ecclesiastes is carefully written. What is the season for fanaticism?" I repeat, and wait and wait: "Political and religious fanaticism is of course crazy," I prompt, "but isn't there another sort?"

Silence. Marysia snickers behind her notes.

"In our art, in our scholarship!" I burst out finally. "Nothing good is ever done without it. The 'raid on the inarticulate' Eliot talks about ..."

A latecomer peers in the door: "Jaja!" she announces excitedly.

"Jaja! Eggs! Eggs in the cafeteria. They're selling eggs!"


Excerpted from "A Warsaw Chronicle"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Carol Hebald.
Excerpted by permission of Regal House Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Karolina in Warsaw,
Chapter Two: Karolina at Work,
Chapter Three: The Strike,
Chapter Four: Snowbound,
Chapter Five: Karolina's Interrogation,
Chapter Six: Karolina's Escape,
Chapter Seven: Marek and the Lieutenant,
Chapter Eight: Marek and pan Kozminski,
Chapter Nine: Karolina on the Streets of Warsaw,
Chapter Ten: Karolina's Train Trip to Krakow,
Chapter Eleven: Marek's Diary,
Chapter Twelve: Karolina in Krakow,
Chapter Thirteen: Little pan Kozminski,
Chapter Fourteen: Adam — A Betrayal,
Chapter Fifteen: Karolina's Gathering,
Chapter Sixteen: Karolina and Marek,
Chapter Seventeen: Rakowieka Prison Letter,
Chapter Eighteen: Karolina's Intervention,
Chapter Nineteen: Marek's Diary,
Glossary for A Warsaw Chronicle,

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