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The Warsaw Voice » Society » January 13, 2010
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A String of Pearls
January 13, 2010   
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Prof. Maria Jarosz's autobiographical book May You Live in Interesting Times: Facts, Events and Themes is like a string of pearls that should be passed on to the next generation to appreciate.

"May you live in interesting times" is an old Jewish curse that has been hurled around for generations. This can, however, be turned on its head so that misfortune produces something positive. Obviously, this is not going to work out for everyone-a certain predisposition and a special touch is required. But it is pure magic when it does come off.

Prof. Jarosz has never had any literary pretensions. Life itself has provided her with breathtaking scenarios and a generous helping of drama and comedy-sometimes in the same scene. She was fated to live in abnormal times, through war and peace.

Even when she was recognized as a first-rate academic mind, she was still deftly picking her way through the labyrinthine corridors of the establishment while leveling the most stringent accusations at that same establishment without the slightest hesitation.

For decades, Jarosz has made it her vocation to tend to the deepest wounds in society. She has a habit of saying that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Once she turned her attention to the problem of suicides, there was no question but she had to become one of the foremost authorities in the world in that field. When she focused on the powers that be in democratic (post-1989) Poland, she wasted no time in becoming a scathing critic-and her views commanded respect. Once she acknowledged that the various kinds of exclusion and their casualties, i.e. those excluded, constitute one of the most critical problems of contemporary society, she embarked on the most profound analysis of this issue ever undertaken.

Jarosz has spent her entire life studying people. A whole library of research books, analyses, studies and papers bears witness to her talent, enthusiasm, tenacity, combativeness and insight. It is not possible to understand Polish society, its views and attitudes, and the mechanisms for managing them, without reading them.

The book May You Live in Interesting Times: Facts, Events and Themes came into being to focus on events from the author's own life and submit a theme for analysis, generalization and conclusion. Each event and theme is distinct and can exist on its own without losing any of its color, shape or tone. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Jarosz is blessed with the gift of an "authentic" memory-one that can reproduce a picture of a girl from the £ód¼ ghetto as seen through the eyes of that girl. This is a gift in which we can share liberally, thanks to the generosity of the author.

The picture of a world constructed through learning has now been supplemented with the recollections of the individual. And there can be no doubt that this picture is more complete as a result. Many of Jarosz's works have been translated into several languages. I hope that the same will happen with May You Live in Interesting Times.

Andrzej Jonas
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