“A Polish Son in the Motherland” describes the many months the author spent living in Poland. Unlike that typical American tourist who goes off to Europe hoping for great adventures but ends up only grazing the surface of another culture as he barricades behind 4-star hotels and bused tours–the author boldly strikes out in search of distant relatives and plunges head first deep into Polish culture.
Leonard Kniffel initially stays at a local hotel in the village near where his grandmother lived as a child before immigrating to America. But eventually he moves into the house of a recently divorced but newly liberated bachelor. And so the author’s mission is set, and surprisingly simple, as the author makes his way on an adventure that many would think a near impossible task.
Growing up in America, Kniffel would often hear stories of distant relatives in Poland and would become familiar with them through old photographs from a distance. But once in Poland, he seeks them out one by one with pit bull tenacity. And what follows are a series of many funny and a few sad experiences of an American treated most warmly by Poles anxious to know him. Kniffel seems to gravitate toward the humorous side of humanity in the things he chooses to observe. Many of the idiosyncrasies he sees in the Poles he meets, also show how very similar they are to Americans having Polish ancestry … me being one.
The book also serves as a great guide to seeking out distant relatives in another country. I think the best example is just going there and asking people if they know so and so. Things just happen. And the Poles Kniffel meets and befriends make the magic work with their openness and willingness to help. And along the way, Kniffel joins in the celebration of life with them and their unique ways.