Poland In Old Photographs

There has been something of an eruption of coffee-table books of late, with publishers queuing up to deluge us with lush pictures of mountains, market squares and other national treasures. On the one hand, it's an inspiration to see the leaps and bounds that have occurred in the last few years in terms of quality of binding and reproduction (as with so many things in Soviet-era life, quality paper was as rare as gold-dust). On the other, look a little closer and it emerges that the publishers are often just rehashing the same pictures, or taking similar pictures with better photographers. But let's not get too pernickety. Things are resoundingly on the up, and we're here to sing the praise of an outstanding book that's just come onto the market, 'Poland In Old Photographs' by the Bosz publishing house.

Bosz is without doubt one of the leaders of the pack in Polish publishing today. After the humblest of beginnings back in 1994, this Przemysl-based outfit has been picking up prizes left right and centre of late. And deservedly so. Bosz has a soft spot for Polish art and photographic albums, and with this one they've taken a step back in time to the world of prewar Poland.

Of course, as always, 'the past is a foreign country', but in Poland's case this notion is markedly more palpable than in many Western European countries. Of the major cities represented in this album, only Cracow came through the war relatively intact. The others were either devastated or simply lost in the reshuffle of borders in 1945. What's more, Poland has gone from being a country of numerous ethnic minorities to a markedly homogenous state.

This magnificent book brings to life the flavour of pre-war Poland to striking effect. It has been divided into nine chapters, including sections such as 'Faith, People, Culture, Ed. Of course, this is a book that has been published in three separate language versions (Polish, English, German) so you'd hardly expect it to shy away from the sentimental, the picturesque and the humourous, and there are plenty such images. But what pictures! There are a mighty 361 here, and what a rich and diverse world they bring to life. Proud princes and Gypsy Kings, Polish Tatars and Karaimi, priests and rabbi, sports heroes and stars of the silver screen, all leap from the pages of this fantastic book. It's an invaluable compendium of the diversity of Old Poland as well as thing of great beauty. A perfect present for anyone with an interest in Poland.

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