Through the eyes and fears of a young boy, author Julian Padowicz paints a vivid picture of childhood in this fictionalized memoir set in pre-World War II Poland. His Jewish socialite mother and stepfather spend their time traveling and entertaining guests while a Catholic governess named Kiki raises him. In the absence of his parents’ guidance, Kiki regularly takes Julian to mass and schools him in the beliefs of Catholicism. As the Russian troops advance toward Warsaw, Julian’s mother makes arrangements with other female relatives whose husbands have been called to the front to travel to the countryside for safety. Once separated from his beloved Kiki, Julian is forced to carve out a relationship with his mother, a woman he is certain will be doomed to spend eternity in hell unless he can figure out a way to have her baptized. With his sheltered world having crumbled around him, Julian is faced with doubts about his identity and finds himself grappling with the validity of Kiki’s teachings. As Julian and his mother travel from Poland to Hungry and eventually America, the significance of the evolving mother-son relationship becomes apparent. Readers will recognize and appreciate family dynamics, brought to life with poignancy and humor, and filtered through the vivid imagination of a child. Padowicz effectively uses World War II as a backdrop for describing the complexities of coming of age during a period in history when identifying one’s true religion and core beliefs came at a potentially fatal price.
Molly Beth Dubin received an M.A. in art history and museum studies from the University of Denver. She is cultural arts director for the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center of Milwaukee.