About Swans Are Fat Too by Michelle Granas: Natalia Lanska, formidable Polish pianist, is dead. No one is really sorrowing, except maybe her granddaughter Hania, whose own career as a concert artist never took off due to a terrible weight problem. Feeling unwanted, Hania arrives in Warsaw for the funeral hoping for a warm welcome from her relatives. Instead, they saddle her with their appalling children, decamp, and refuse to return.
Hania’s situation is at first improved and then complicated when a neighbor ─ the very correct, very austere descendant of an old Polish family ─ asks her to proofread an amateur history project. Hania sets to work with a will, and Pan Doctor Prince Konstanty Radzimoyski is surprised when his ideas get more editing than he bargained for. Typing pages of the past, rediscovering her native city, and playing the piano all contribute to taking Hania’s mind off her problems, but can’t change her awareness that the children need help and that her growing attachment to her employer will only give her pain. The summer Hania spends between love, hostility, and the weight of history tests her resourcefulness, but her fresh ideas and readiness to carry on brighten the lives of her new acquaintances. Still, no one, least of all Hania herself, expects that her beautiful qualities will make Konstanty forget her figure and other excess baggage.
This book contains a history of Poland in a nutshell and is about seeing beyond the conventions.
My two centsLet's start with that intriguing title. The heroine is Hania, a gifted pianist but her weight─and also is Hania's huge insecurity─held her back from achieving a renowned concert pianist. The last time I came across an overweight character was Blubber by Judy Blume! That got me thinking about overweight characters in literature in general and I'm at a loss to name even five. On that point, I think this novel scores.
I've had the pleasure of reading Michelle Granas's last novel, Zaremba or Love and the Rule of Law, which too was set in Poland. But while that novel also featured an atypical heroine (Cordelia has polio), the love for Poland and Polish history shines through in both her novels. This novel showcases the sights and history of Poland as Hania travels around Moscow and its countryside. History is also woven into the e-mail exchanges between Hania and Konstanty, making for some insightful observations and commentary on historic moments and people.
Now roll all this up in an unexpected and sweet romance and you've got an unusual love story gilded in Polish history!
Uh-oh: I was much more engrossed in the face-to-face of the romance side and Hania's struggles with the children than with the Polish history that was featured in the e-mail exchanges. I found myself skimming these Polish history portions when they got too long and I found the italicised font difficult to read.
Verdict: A history of Poland interwoven in an enjoyable and sweet romance that blooms between an overweight woman and a doctor, amidst the mayhem of taking care of two problematic children. I recommend this to those interested in Polish history, or someone looking for an unusual romance story.
I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.