” ‘We are obliged to consider every person,’ Said her father deliberately, in his professional voice, ‘who has not been judged guilty by a court of law, to be innocent: that’s one of the principles of democracy. It is also the principle of a country under the rule of law.’ “
Cordelia Eleonara Fogg is a thirty-five year old American born but raised as a woman of the world who at present moment resides with her family in Warsaw, Poland. During the introduction of the novel you learn that she is the primary caregiver for her mother, but when you get down to the brass tacks of the situation you realize that she is the main thread holding the whole family together. While she is spending the majority of her time caring for others you often forget that Cordelia, in fact, has polio. Because of this she is left with a lame arm and leg who relies on a crutch for mobility. She is responsible for the well-being of her American born, Italian mother who has mentally-regressed after being diagnosed with dementia ten years prior. Cordelia strongly believes that while married, her mother’s constant moving from country to country and learning language after language in totality took a toll from a mental standpoint. But it was the final stop of living in Warsaw and learning the intricacies of the Polish language that finally did her in. Given Cordelia’s globetrotting childhood she made the decision that it would be beneficial to the care of her mother that she work from home as a freelance translator for an agency.
Her Polish father Tato, a University Professor in English Literature has heart arrhythmia and angina. He is a highly-intelligent man who loves to debate many topics when the opportunity presents itself, but would rather quote other literary works when parental advice is needed. Her brother Antek is a reserved, absent-minded, lethargic, non-functional, social recluse who spends his time capturing on camera the day-to-day lives of his roommate arachnids. His desire for any other human contact other than his immediate family has dissipated and life in isolation seems like a foregone conclusion. He has been resigned to his room after a minor oversight during his career as a printing business owner. His little blunder had a tremendous mental effect which influenced him to close up his business’s doors despite his god-given talents. His mother’s diagnosis put him further into himself and sealed his immediate fate. In Essence what the Fogg’s happen to be are a family of worldly, cultured, and well-read misfits with eccentricities that will keep you interested from beginning to end and hoping for something more for Cordelia.
“Mackerel in tomato sauce, mackerel in tomato sauce, Mackerel in tomato sauce. Trout!”
An innocent man’s long-standing reputation for honest business practices is at stake when a government’s Anti-Corruption Bureau enthusiastically attempts to trump-up fraudulent charges. This is all presumed to be based on his supposed manipulation of tenders to build social housing for Warsaw’s lower-income citizens. To Dariusz Zaremba this is merely a political ploy whereby the ACB is using him as a sacrificial lamb. A piece of propaganda in order to win elections as well as public favour through an all out media blitz to report the arrest. While on the run the Fogg family and Zaremba’s stories collide. All these ingredients would leave a person to believe that this book would be a tad on the dense side, but it is an engaging love story and a much needed escape from the mundane for the Fogg family.
” ‘Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart, ’tis woman’s whole existence.’ Maybe that wasn’t true of many women any more. It was of her. She felt the full force of it now. The full scope of her being was invested in him; if she was lucky he might want to be casual friends in the future. Relief at his safety, at his success, warred with the dull ache of loss. Mostly she wanted to go home.”
Dariusz Zaremba is owner of Zaremba Development Company where he is a successful broker in real estate. A year earlier, Cordelia was encouraged by her older brother Hal to apply for a job as a translator at Zaremba to prevent her from making the mistake of wasting her life away like Antek. Given her compassionate nature Cordelia comes to the aid of a distressed puppy as she is on her way to the interview. She is heckled by a man to keep the dog on a leash and decides to bring the dog to the interview with her. Late and disheveled she figures she has little chance to get the job. Yet, she is surprised to find that the interviewer has offered her the job due to her grasp of language and her unique way of presenting herself in a formal setting. She then realizes that the interviewer is the man that yelled at her from his car, with that revelation she declines the job. Taken aback the man tries his best to get her to come around but she is dead set in her ways and leaves the premises. Dariusz was the interviewer and to him there is something about Cordelia that will stay with him for a long time and with some divine intervention will enable him to make some reputation-saving decisions.
There is plenty to like about this book, but for me the whole processing of love between the two protagonists is one that is hard to find in other books in the marketplace. Communication for them is the foundation, physical expression is a learning process but love is undeniably present. Cordelia’s insecure, conscientious, and mild-mannered nature make her relatable to the reader. And in conjunction with Zaremba’s endearing, adventurous, and self-assured behaviour, this makes for quite an odd but very cute couple. With these differences you are guaranteed to have very interesting dialogue. One of my favourite exchanges between Cordelia and Dariusz happened towards the end of the novel when in the heart of one’s resignation and the other’s redemption they engage in a tête-à-tête. This may not seem like the time nor the place for this sort of banter but given their past it really is consistent to their personalities.
” ‘You want to marry him? For real?’ He asked her in genuine puzzlement. Cordelia glanced uncertainly at Darek, embarrassed for his sake, but he seemed unfazed. ‘Yes.’ ‘But why?’ Cordelia’s father was not known for tact at the best of times, and now he was too upset to care. Why? Thought Cordelia. Why? Because Darek had all the force and vigor she lacked; because he could walk circles around her mentally and physically; because he filled her with a sense of her own inferiority and exalted her with the feeling that he admired her; because he was responsive and kind and exciting; because instinct told her that if she asked him to do something he would leap to satisfy her desires; because she only desired his company and his company left her shaken and thrilled; because she never felt she was living before he came along.”
This book is a rather accessible read that covers plenty of psychological afflictions that manifest from social isolation, losing your sense of belonging, or physical disability. What you learn from reading this book is:
- The power of the media’s impact on public perception,
- The need for context to make sound judgment,
- The difference between good press vs. bad press and the personal ramifications that can follow,
- The importance of stepping out of your comfort level in order to fully understand what drives others and
- How a picture can truly be worth a thousand words.
The book is split into two parts. The first part, which I preferred, was about the courtship, and Zaremba’s corresponding impact on the Fogg family. The issue I had with the second part was that it really delved into Cordelia’s self-doubt and negative introspection. The details behind the black ops aspects of intelligence agencies was almost hard to believe given the reality of the situation. The author did a great job in making it seem plausible, but it was hard to fathom, unless you believe revenge can make a civil agency nefarious and maniacal, then as a reader you may not buy it.The story at times was dominated by political lexicon and legalese which took some time to get used to. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys quirky characters, a good love story, political games, and intellectual battles.
“Men of his sort, she thought, married achievers like themselves or trophy wives. She wasn’t either. She hadn’t scaled the lowest rungs on any ladder of achievement: she hadn’t been made a partner in anyone’s law firm, or even an employee, hadn’t won a Pulitzer prize, or any prize, hadn’t organized a relief effort, or even the household very well, had no social graces, no career, no income of note. She had a twisted arm and a twisted leg and needed to rest all the time. He had said he loved her.”