Those of you who follow this blog, my Twitter account, or my writing will know that I have long advocated for expanding the scope of European historical fiction beyond the focus on England, France, and Italy. The book that I am going to review today is among the few that does just that.
Push Not the River by James Conroyd Martin is the story of young Polish noblewoman, Anna Maria Berezowska, who becomes orphaned just as her native country is lurching toward a collapse. In the year 1791, the Kingdom of Poland has just adopted a constitution – the first such act in Europe – in a last-ditch effort to stave off internal unrest like the one that had led to the horrors of the French revolution. But Poland’s powerful neighbors will not countenance reforms in eastern Europe that would diminish the absolute power of aristocracy and raise their peasants from poverty and ignorance.
Aided by Prussia and Austria, Russia begins a campaign to undermine Poland’s constitution. Swaths of the nation, from peasants to nobles rise to protect it, but there are also those who are happy to do nothing, or even let Empress Catherine send troops into Poland. Anna Maria’s cousin, a spoiled heiress named Zofia, is among the latter group. Not only does she entertain Russians in her townhouse and deride the patriotic movement, she also lusts after the man Anna Maria loves, Count Jan Stelnicki, who has taken arms to defend Poland.
In his absence, Anna is viciously assaulted, and when she falls pregnant her aunt forces her to marry a callous nobleman who is only after her fortune. Amid the personal drama and the chaos engulfing Poland, it appears that Anna Maria’s budding dream of happiness has been quashed forever. But she refuses to give up. Even though nowhere is safe unless one joins the side of the collaborators, Anna refuses to betray her homeland. She vows to support the fighters and to be reunited with the man she loves – if they manage to survive the army of Russia’s vicious General Suvorov’s that is closing in on Warsaw.
Push Not the River is based on Anna Maria Berezowska’s diary that lay undiscovered for two hundred years. A rare historical novel set in eastern Europe, it is evocative of the heroic last days of Polish independence, bringing to life the idyllic countryside and a way of life that is steeped in tradition in danger of disappearing along with the nation. It provides a vivid and intimate portrait of a society whose mettle is tested as never before, and a woman whose love and loyalty enable her to face the disaster with tenacity and courage.
If you enjoy eastern European historical fiction, check out Silent Water, a Jagiellon Mystery Book 1, set at the 16th century royal court in Cracow. It’s available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.