Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law
By: Michelle Granas
Format/Source: Paperback; courtesy of the author
In Warsaw, a shy and high-minded polio victim lives a life of seclusion caring for her odd family until a chance encounter plunges her into the intrigues of dirty politics. Zaremba, a wealthy businessman, is about to be arrested on trumped-up charges and only she can save him. Swept along by events, Cordelia finds her feelings increasingly involved with a stranger for whom she is both rescuer and victim. When Zaremba is implicated in terrorist activities and disappears, Cordelia is painfully uncertain if she has been abandoned and must overcome surveillance, corruption, the media, and mounting humiliations and difficulties to learn the truth.
This is a story about love between a man and woman, but also love of family, country, and justice. Although set in Poland, where the CIA had a black site, it is a story that could happen anywhere, in a world where young democracies struggle against the temptations of covert operations and older democracies sometimes lead them astray.
I remember seeing this book in passing while browsing the Giveaways section in GoodReads but the novel first came to my attention when the author emailed me about it. The premise of the novel sounded really interesting; I can perhaps name you one novel I know that’s set in Poland (and I haven’t read the novel myself) and I’ve never read any set in that country (not even in passing, I believe). I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Zaremba is a charming novel despite of some of the serious themes that the story touches on: issues of corruption, political systems, black ops, bureaucracy and trust in government. The charm lies in the characters and their interactions with one another. Cordelia was a great character; she’s led a fairly sheltered and secluded life but isn’t afraid to stand her ground, especially when things get mad. The remnants of the polio affliction she endured as a child are visible but she doesn’t let it reduce her to a helpless non-entity; she’s smart, she’s tough and she won’t allow any to belittle her or keep her from doing whatever she wants.
I enjoyed her rapport with Zaremba in the first half of the novel as Zaremba is clearly as intrigued of Cordelia as the reader is. I never quite connected with Zaremba’s character and his plight, probably because the reader is acquainted to him through Cordelia’s perspective. I did find him pretty intriguing with his jack-of-all-trades capability and the way he was able to fit in to her quirky family through his charm and his good gauge on people. I wish more time had been spent on Cordelia’s family as I thought they were really fascinating characters and I wanted to get to know them more.
I did not find the second half of the novel as interesting as the first. Despite the blurb hinting at it, I did not expect the covert storyline; I thought that the larger, more political aspect of Zaremba’s storyline would be contained in the national political hierarchy as opposed to its international scope. I found myself having to suspend my belief here a little bit because it did not feel as believable or as fleshed out. I was not as interested in that side of the storyline because it moved away from Cordelia’s family.
I enjoyed the use of Polish words here and there. I wish there had been more detail about the cityscape–local places, known landmarks in Warsaw and elsewhere in the country–just to get a better feel of the country and the atmosphere of the novel.
Overall, Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law was an interesting and charming novel. The strength of the story lies in its characters, especially its protagonist, Cordelia. If you are into contemporary novels set in a unique European country and great character interaction, you should check this novel out.