28 February 2012

1939.com.pl (Book review)

I learned about this book by accident and thought it sounded so outlandish that I had to get it on audiobook - ended up getting the entire trilogy written my Polish author Marcin Ciszewski on audiobook and just finished listening to book 1 while painting miniatures.

This review will contain minor spoilers.

The story begins in the year of 2007 in Poland in a military base where a reconnaissance battalion is preparing for their mission to Afghanistan. Soon they are also joined by a small group of US technical specialists accompanied by a few US Marines. The Americans want to field test a new device mounted on a large truck. The device, the Poles are told, is supposed to work as a shield against ballistic projectiles and will be used by troops in Afghanistan once tests have shown that it works properly in the field.

So the Polish Afghanistan force prepare themselves for the Afghanistan mission, load up food and ammo - one of the higher officers tell them to load up on extra rations and ammunition because supply lines can leave much to be desired. The idea is for them to field test the American device and immediately afterwards head down to Afghanistan.

The troops head out into a nearby forest, a couple platoon of tanks, MiG helicopters, armored personnel carriers, jeeps and the large device mounted on the truck. Roughly 500 soldiers all in all. Testing starts and while the machine runs a thunderstorm hits the area, of course something goes wrong and everyone blacks out. The battalion wakes up after a couple of minutes, feeling nauseous and having problem with focusing their eyesight - but once they do they start noticing weird stuff. The storm had been raging just minutes ago, now it was gone. The large forest was there a couple of minutes ago, now it was gone. Satellite communication, gone. Cell phones, not working. And a German fighter flies over their heads, in the distance sounds of artillery.

No one knows what the hell is going on, they have a vague idea but it is so preposterous that everyone refuses to believe it. They find two civilians nearby whom they reprimand for being in a secured military testing ground - checking their papers the civilians are German, born at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Their wallets filled with German money printed 1938. Still refusing to believe it the Polish soldiers try to grasp at every straw of logical explanation. A platoon of German soldiers roll up in Sdkfz transports and attacks the Polish and American soldiers - who still think they are caught in the middle of some reenactment or movie shoot and don't react immediately until the Germans kill a couple of their soldiers.

Shit got real, they answer with all they have, blowing the German APC's up in the air and capture a few German soldiers, finding on them documents showing the German invasion plan of Poland. The date is September 1st, 1939. And the Germans have just started the invasion. The thing is that whatever threw the Polish batallion from 2007 back in time, did not relocate them geographically. So while their military base was located in modern day Poland, this particular piece of land had previously been German - so the Poles find themselves behind enemy lines.

The rest of the story is about the battalion trying to figure out whether they can get back to their own time, if they are going to help the Polish army of 1939 with the historical knowledge and modern machines and weapons, and considering the consequences of altering history.

The books is immensely entertaining, at times very funny due to the absurd nature of the situation. The modern era soldier act and behave as anyone would in their shoes, shocked with disbelief and confused. Slowly they realize that they might end up being stuck in 1939 and would not want to live in German occupation. They manage to contact the Polish army of 1939 and there are just so many wonderful scenes of how the modern Poles try to explain to their "grandfathers" who they are, where they are from and what a helicopter is. The Germans are initially shocked and awed by the modern technology, indeed with night vision optics and modern tanks and helicopters the battalion makes short work of German tanks and infantry divisions at first. But the Germans aint stupid and soon divert considerable amounts of ground and air forces and put serious pressure on the small battalion. Contact is made with the Volhynian Cavalry brigade which commence to fight alongside their comrades from the future, and there is a funny and interesting scene where the modern battalion commander after much deliberation decides to take a helicopter to Warsaw and speak with the Polish commander in chief, (Edward Smigly-Rydz and his staff) to explain the situation and how history played out "in reality", such as no western allies coming to their aid and the Germans winning the campaign and also about the Soviet invasion on September  17th.

Characters are very likeable, there is a great sense of humor, battle scenes are well written, the story is interesting and does not get overly carried away in patriotically undertones. The mystery of how and why they have been thrown back over 60 years is also slowly unveiled. I look forward to start listening to book nr 2 which takes place after the September campaign and leads up to the Warsaw uprising in 1944.

I did not so long ago write about another similar story called "Home Sweet Rome" which is being turned into a movie. Almost identical idea for a plot, but with Americans in Iraq/Afghanistan finding themselves travelling back to the times of Julius Caesar and ancient Rome. However I think the idea behind the story of Ciszewski is a tad more interesting from the characters point of view as they actually have stakes in what's going. I do however think that the final score for this book will be slightly higher if you are Polish or a fan of Polish WW2 history. Just as a US reader would probably find a similar story about the War of Independence or Civil War a lot more personal and engaging - though everyone else would also like it for what it is.

Sadly I can't seem to find an English translation of this or any other book of the trilogy by Ciszewski. So all I can say for those not reading/speaking Polish is to remember the title and keep your eyes out for the English translation. It really is a highly entertaining story and a pretty good book. I can't remember the last time I had been grinning this much.

My score 4/5
(5/5 if you are Polish and read/listen to it in Polish. Got to love the cursing in the Polish tongue)

The Polish audiobook reader was also very good, nothing kills a story like a uninterested person reading it in a dull voice.

5 comments:

  1. I'll have to keep an eye out for an English translation. Another good series is 1632 by Eric Flint where an entire American town gets transported to Germany in the middle of the 30 years war. Interesting in that it is not just soldiers coping with the change.

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  2. Sounds a bit like the file The Final Countdown, when the USS Nimitz goes back to Pearl Harbour! Lots of fun with Zeroes against Tomcats ensues!

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  3. I liked this book, very much. The idea was neat and the execution very good.

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  4. Good review, thanks for that. I listen to audiobooks while painting as well. I find its a great use of time and very, very relaxing. Its especially good when you can find an audiobook that 'matches' what you're painting as it helps to keep the enthusiasm up.

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