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ALEKSANDER TOPOLSKI was sixteen years old on the morning of August 24, 1939, when he was called up for military service. In eight days his native Poland would be invaded by the Germans. Shortly after that, the Russians rolled in under the Hitler-Stalin pact, and when Topolski tried to sneak across the border into Romania, he was captured by Soviet border guards. Thus began ALEKSANDER TOPOLSKI was sixteen years old on the morning of August 24, 1939, when he was called up for military service. In eight days his native Poland would be invaded by the Germans. Shortly after that, the Russians rolled in under the Hitler-Stalin pact, and when Topolski tried to sneak across the border into Romania, he was captured by Soviet border guards. Thus began a more than two-year-long ordeal through the Soviet Union's outrageously absurd penal system. Writing with an unexpected sense of humor and irony and an almost superhuman capacity for recalling fascinating details, Topolski recounts the fight for survival in the gulag. Mendacious NKVD officers, whimsical pickpockets, ruthless youth gang members, wise political prisoners, Polish patriots, unfortunate Uzbechs and countless other unforgettable characters populate this often raucous odyssey. "But it's not for our brains to ponder these things," someone along Topolski's journey utters, mouthing an old Russian saying, "without vodka you can't figure it out." Ultimately Topolski escapes into Iran to join the Polish 2nd Corps which is being formed there to fight the Germans . . . but that's another story.


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ALEKSANDER TOPOLSKI was sixteen years old on the morning of August 24, 1939, when he was called up for military service. In eight days his native Poland would be invaded by the Germans. Shortly after that, the Russians rolled in under the Hitler-Stalin pact, and when Topolski tried to sneak across the border into Romania, he was captured by Soviet border guards. Thus began ALEKSANDER TOPOLSKI was sixteen years old on the morning of August 24, 1939, when he was called up for military service. In eight days his native Poland would be invaded by the Germans. Shortly after that, the Russians rolled in under the Hitler-Stalin pact, and when Topolski tried to sneak across the border into Romania, he was captured by Soviet border guards. Thus began a more than two-year-long ordeal through the Soviet Union's outrageously absurd penal system. Writing with an unexpected sense of humor and irony and an almost superhuman capacity for recalling fascinating details, Topolski recounts the fight for survival in the gulag. Mendacious NKVD officers, whimsical pickpockets, ruthless youth gang members, wise political prisoners, Polish patriots, unfortunate Uzbechs and countless other unforgettable characters populate this often raucous odyssey. "But it's not for our brains to ponder these things," someone along Topolski's journey utters, mouthing an old Russian saying, "without vodka you can't figure it out." Ultimately Topolski escapes into Iran to join the Polish 2nd Corps which is being formed there to fight the Germans . . . but that's another story.

30 review for Without Vodka: Adventures in Wartime Russia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jfk

    This is one of the books that I read that I absolutely loved and couldn't put down. I've given this book as a gift to several friends and family members. Its hard to explain to someone that a book about a Polish POW in WWII USSR can be a fun and entertaining read, but truly is. This is one of the books that I read that I absolutely loved and couldn't put down. I've given this book as a gift to several friends and family members. Its hard to explain to someone that a book about a Polish POW in WWII USSR can be a fun and entertaining read, but truly is.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paweł Sobiegraj

    Książka Topolskiego to wspomnienia posiadającą ciekawą narrację, która mocno wciąga. Wspomnienia są napisane łatwym do przyswojenia językiem. Autor tłumaczy dokładnie wszystkie zawiłości, które polskiemu czytelnikowi wydają się oczywiste. Jest to spowodowane zapewne tym, że autor pisząc myślał o czytelniku anglosaskim. Dzięki temu bez większych obaw po książkę może sięgnąć każdy - nie trzeba wcześniej przeczytać ani innej „sowieckiej literatury obozowej”, ani opracowań historycznych na temat Guł Książka Topolskiego to wspomnienia posiadającą ciekawą narrację, która mocno wciąga. Wspomnienia są napisane łatwym do przyswojenia językiem. Autor tłumaczy dokładnie wszystkie zawiłości, które polskiemu czytelnikowi wydają się oczywiste. Jest to spowodowane zapewne tym, że autor pisząc myślał o czytelniku anglosaskim. Dzięki temu bez większych obaw po książkę może sięgnąć każdy - nie trzeba wcześniej przeczytać ani innej „sowieckiej literatury obozowej”, ani opracowań historycznych na temat Gułagu lub ZSRR. Warto podkreślić, że autor przekazuje swoje przeżycia takimi jakie były. Więc poza głodem, biedą, nędzą i zbrodnią, które były wszechobecne w „raju na ziemi”, czytelnik spotka się z „radzieckimi absurdami”, ludzką życzliwością i wieloma śmiesznymi historiami, dzięki którym ludzie pozostawali ludźmi w nieludzkim świecie. Gorąco polecam!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Arthur

    Turns out my friend's family live near this author in Canada and they kindly supplied a copy of this book. As my father in law was also Polish, it was interesting to learn more about the terrible events of WW2. This is an very well written book - I could not put it down and read it in two days. Whilst the historical facts are mind blowing the author managed to inject humour into what is a bleak subject. The experience of a Polish POW during WW2 - the hardship, the hunger and harrowing plight for Turns out my friend's family live near this author in Canada and they kindly supplied a copy of this book. As my father in law was also Polish, it was interesting to learn more about the terrible events of WW2. This is an very well written book - I could not put it down and read it in two days. Whilst the historical facts are mind blowing the author managed to inject humour into what is a bleak subject. The experience of a Polish POW during WW2 - the hardship, the hunger and harrowing plight for all concerned is most distressing. The recall of the author is most amazing - did I mention - this is a TRUE story where reality is crazier than fiction. I have recommended this book to many of my friends

  4. 4 out of 5

    Adam Marischuk

    I read this book many years ago and it has stuck with me, so I suppose it has weathered the test of time. There is also a personal connection, not to the book but to the situation, for I had one great-uncle executed at Katyn and another who joined General Wladyslaw Anders in Siberia. Topolski writes innocently, and a little naively, with sympathy for all the people he encounters. He does a great job displaying the cruelty of the system without blaming the individuals or groups as a whole. If at t I read this book many years ago and it has stuck with me, so I suppose it has weathered the test of time. There is also a personal connection, not to the book but to the situation, for I had one great-uncle executed at Katyn and another who joined General Wladyslaw Anders in Siberia. Topolski writes innocently, and a little naively, with sympathy for all the people he encounters. He does a great job displaying the cruelty of the system without blaming the individuals or groups as a whole. If at times the situations seem absurd, it is only because the situation was absurd, hence the title. This much forgotten (intentionally?) episode of European history deserves much more attention than it has received and Without Vodka is one of hopefully many contributions to the memory of those who suffered and died in what Timothy Snyder called 'Bloodlands'.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dov Zeller

    I had to get this one back to the library, and while I enjoyed the chapters I read, I don't know if I'll take it out of the library again to finish. Clearly the writer is a good and charming storyteller and he has quite a story (many stories) to tell as a POW. One GR reviewer questioned the veracity of these stories. I am only about a third through the book and so far it seems pretty believable to me. Very similar to other POW stories except for the specific places and characters. If I get a cha I had to get this one back to the library, and while I enjoyed the chapters I read, I don't know if I'll take it out of the library again to finish. Clearly the writer is a good and charming storyteller and he has quite a story (many stories) to tell as a POW. One GR reviewer questioned the veracity of these stories. I am only about a third through the book and so far it seems pretty believable to me. Very similar to other POW stories except for the specific places and characters. If I get a chance to finish it perhaps I'll have more to say on the subject. I do want to post some quotes. Hopefully in the next few days.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Well, I'll be honest, after a few years, I've given up on ever coming back to actually finish this book. I was about 1/4 of the way through it before stalling from boredom and a sense of doubt as to the veracity of this tale. Call it my Spidey-sense, but I just starting thinking that there was a lot of "making it up as I go along" within what I'd read. Maybe I'm totally wrong about it, but I moved on to more interesting material; I'll be honest, I was disappointed because I'd hoped for something Well, I'll be honest, after a few years, I've given up on ever coming back to actually finish this book. I was about 1/4 of the way through it before stalling from boredom and a sense of doubt as to the veracity of this tale. Call it my Spidey-sense, but I just starting thinking that there was a lot of "making it up as I go along" within what I'd read. Maybe I'm totally wrong about it, but I moved on to more interesting material; I'll be honest, I was disappointed because I'd hoped for something thrilling and inspiring.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Frank Pleszak

    Excellent

  8. 5 out of 5

    D. Brown

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anna Gładysz

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alexa Topolski

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrzej

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  14. 4 out of 5

    Conrad

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ray

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jefff

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bartłomiej Paruzel

  20. 5 out of 5

    jen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ireney Berezniak

  22. 4 out of 5

    Justyna

  23. 5 out of 5

    Walid Herzallah

  24. 4 out of 5

    Judy

  25. 4 out of 5

    Maciej

  26. 5 out of 5

    Flashman

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aleksander Puzyński

  28. 5 out of 5

    Hashtag Prose

  29. 5 out of 5

    Donna LaValley

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aleksander Perczynski

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