Tonawanda News


May 21, 2012

Stories from the neighborhood, and the concentration camp


Tonawanda News —

The characters are given over to perhaps too much over-analysis, but it’s a book about long-held secrets and what motivated them. It admirably explains how, for example, a priest like Stefan Mazur becomes a pillar in his community through favor-trading, delivery of votes in key elections and active participation in the day-to-day, give-and-take of his parishioners. However they relate to God through the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Church as neighborhood nerve center is well-defined.

Of particular interest to some may be the history lesson imparted. Some know how the Soviet Union overran and absorbed Ukraine with horrifying consequences to the Ukrainians, how the invasion of Germany was practically welcomed, and how the consequences of concentration camps turned the ethnicities and nations of Eastern Europe into victims and victimizers. The book’s mystery involves Ukrainian policemen, Hungarian detainees and Polish camps, and it that’s unfamiliar to the reader, it is explained admirably here.

Peter Smolenska, a carpenter, may or may not have been a Nazi collaborator. Klara has dreams about it. Father Mazur wheels and deals to keep a parishioner from deportation and trial. Mrs. Antonovych, a strange old woman of the sort Maria Ouspenskaya played in vintage horror movies, moves in and out as something of a proclaiming angel.

Ethnic enclaves in large American cities have a million stories — anyone with a talkative grandmother can understand that — and this is one of them, very well told. Author Leary has taken a strong, if fictionalized, incident and magnified it, turning easily ignorable characters into flesh-and-blood people with simultaneous heroism and cowardice in their veins.

It is suggested this is Leary’s first novel. I hope he writes more.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident and can be contacted at

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