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NONFICTION : THE PRIVATE POLAND by Janine Wedel (Facts On File: $17.95; 222 pp., illustrated).

September 21, 1986|Netty and Arthur Turner

Janine Wedel, namesake of a famous chocolate-maker in Warsaw, takes the reader into Poland the way one takes a friend on a voyage of shared experiences. The easy flow of her narrative involves the reader to such an extent that one feels the physical fatigue of the long lines for meat, or elation on finding a source of coffee or toilet paper.

In spite of its engrossing readability, this is a serious piece of research by a Berkeley-trained anthropologist who first visited Poland in 1977 and lived there from 1982 to 1986. There are very few sins of omission, and these could be justified by the size of the book. Contemporary Poland rolls like a train on two parallel rails: the official rail of coupons, controls and propaganda, and the private level of an undercover, entrepreneurial economy with bartering of goods, services and information. It is on this level that most things are done or obtained. It is this "private economy" that confuses a visitor and creates both cases of conscience and variety of opinions.

Wedel writes like an insider about Polish tenacity and instinct for survival, keys to their very existence. She gives a true picture of the strength of the "familial society," which helps out kin and close friends alike. This invisible safety net is the main secret of how Poles show courage and humor in coping with their lives in the midst of shortages and frustrations, some of which were experienced by Wedel herself.

Praiseworthy is the spelling correctly of some Polish words, skillfully explained by the author and kept intact by the publisher.

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