Heather Kirk Author
heather kirk, speaker
Heather Kirk, Author
Welcome to Heather Kirk's web site. Reviews
  • Be Not Afraid: The Polish (R)evolution, “Solidarity”
  • Who Were the Whiteoaks and Where Was Jalna? 
  • Mazo de la Roche: Rich and Famous Writer
  • Article on Mazo de la Roche
  • Wacousta
  • Warsaw Spring
  • A Drop of Rain
Welcome to Heather Kirk's web site.
Be Not Afraid: The Polish (R)evolution, “Solidarity”

Recommended book in the category, “History--the Solidarity/Cold War era.”

- “Book Recommendations”
Embassy of the Republic of Poland
Washington, DC, USA

Listed in “Books by Kosciuszko Foundation Scholars and Honorees.”

- The Kosciuszko Foundation
New York, NY, USA

Be Not Afraid can be recommended for general readers who are largely unfamiliar with the story of modern Poland and that of Solidarity, its origins, leaders, and incredible achievement. May both of these stories be told and retold, again and again.”

- Donald E. Pienkos,Professor Emeritus
University of Wisconson at Milwaukee
The Polish Review 58.4 (2014)

Be Not Afraid is an insightful look into the start of something which changed our world for the better.”

- Geraldine Bereziuk Lowrey
Am-Pole Eagle 22 Oct. 2013

“Excellent reference for 20th century Polish history.”

- Zachary G. Chauvin
Resource Links 18.1 (June 2012)
Later listed on “The Year’s Best--2012"

“The book is an easy read, filled with bite-sized bits of historical information, as well as creative non-fiction, Polish jokes and compelling photographs.”

- Susan Doolan
Barrie Examiner 2 Dec. 2011

“The force of non-violence is undeniable, as the message is absolute. Be Not Afraid: The Polish (R)evolution, “Solidarity” discusses the rise of a Poland free from Soviet influence in 1989, and how it contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Heather Kirk, who visited Poland and gained the pulse of its people, offers a fine complilation of photography, poetry, and much more to grant a snapshot of a people who liberated themselves by simply not being moved.  Be Not Afraid is a valuable read to understand the power of protest, very much recommended.”

“World History Shelf”
Small Press Bookwatch: December 2011
Midwest Book Review

Be Not Afraid: The Polish (R)evolution, “Solidarity”

Powerful, peaceful and quintessentially Polish: Solidarity. Canadian author
Heather Kirk spotlights the many facts of a world-changing revolution that killed “precisely no one.”


When Canadian author and educator, Heather Kirk, is asked what motivated her to write a book about Poland’s Solidarity movement she replies without hesitation. There are lots of books about war, but very few about non-violent resistance. How are young people to know about it? So she chose to write about the biggest and most successful one of them all: “Solidarity involved ten
million people over a period of ten years. It freed Poland from Soviet domination. It contributed greatly to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It killed precisely no one.” The dedication reads “For the people of Poland.”

Heather Kirk, who lives in Barrie, Ontario, is by no means the first to write about Solidarity but it is ironic that a resistance movement that was, more than any other, a people’s movement, has largely been of interest primarily to intellectuals who write dense history, often dwelling on the minutiae of strategy and complex analyses primarily aimed at--and understood by--academics.
Without a repertoire of sound bites, one-liners and colourful personalities, what are western journalists to do?

Ms. Kirk wanted to communicate this magnificent people’s story to “the people.” Solidarity toppled a tyranny in part because its communications were pure genius, despite the need for secrecy. But abroad, it failed to create a long term impression, other than its famous logo and the dashing young electrician.

It is no accident that broadcasts commemorating the fall of communism invariably show the happy crowd dismantling the Berlin Wall. You couldn’t script a better scene to play out in front of television cameras, especially for audiences weaned on Disney. Never mind that this scene tells you nothing about the long, hard, disciplined, and complicated struggle that took place--not
in East Germany, but in Poland.

In Be Not Afraid Heather Kirk creates a people’s history for the people, well researched and factfilled, but told in a quirky, original way, with a treasure trove of terrific quotations, personal stories, short biographical sketches, and historical gems, she explains national and religious symbols, and throws in the “Polish jokes” of that era--those clever and witty put downs of communists and their masters in Moscow.

Let’s start with one of those:

On a visit to China, Jaruzelski asked a Chinese leader, “What’s the numerical
strength of your opposition?”
“About 35 million,” replied the Chinese leader.
“Ah!” responded Jaruzelski, “About the same as our number.”


Yes, an entire nation opposed. And how did this nation oppose? Kirk gathers vivid examples.

Solidarity’s most common decoration, decorating factory gates and monuments . . . honoring leaders and heroes . . . were garlands and wreathes of flowers. “Disdain for dictators is easy, disdain for violence, the dictators’ favorite tool, is not so easy . . . But renouncing it pays . . .”

Poetry. In Poland, Kirk explains, the “poetico-political dream world of literature” is of vital importance. It ensures survival, moral survival, no matter what the political reality. She tells of shipyard workers writing poetry during the strike. “Let the lie and falsehood disappear and let the goodness and truth permeate the nation . . .”

Music. The workers composed songs, sang them at meetings, in their factories, at demonstrations. One, “Zeby Polska byla Polska” (So that Poland Can Be Poland) became the theme song for Solidarity.

Theatre. What were the students protesting in the riots of 1968? The authorities banned a play. Interfered with their cultural life.

Kirk is well aware that poetry, music, theatre may strike non-Poles as odd weapons to use during a strike but she provides the context, the historical and cultural background and then, it seems as normal as brandishing a weapon--but much more civilized and effective. These are weapons chosen because they give strength to the oppressed, not to attack others.

Faith. Do Not Be Afraid. Those were the Pope’s words. Don’t be afraid. The nation is with you proclaimed one of the bannners that greeted Lech Walesa at a festival of song and poetry at the Warsaw Opera House. Kirk points out that Henryk Gorecki, one of Poland’s greatest modern composers emphasized that music, and the other arts--literature, painting, film--are a form of prayer. Let us not forget--Solidarity included atheists too.

Solidarity was not just a word, a slogan. It was a union of all the people, peaceful, hopeful, imbued with faith. Solidarity is, by definition, inclusive, accepting, understanding.

There is so much in Kirk’s book. The personalities: Kuron, Michnik, Bujak, Mazowiecki, Anna Walentynowicz, Alina Pienkowska, and Walesa among so many others, all have their cameo biographies. Brief, warm, human biographies.

Personal stories, all true but written as fictional narrative, illuminate the times.
Walesa’simpoverished childhood, his father’s premature death from the physical abuse he endured in German camps. Stories of women trying to care for families despite shortages of essentials, of wives and children afraid their father will be arrested or killed.

Be Not Afraid is a surprising, unusual book. Kirk lists a bibliography and recommends readings on certain topics throughout the text. She also acknowledges Professor Anna Cienciala--who is always generous with her time and her knowledge--to whom Kirk turned with questions along the way. I highly recommend this much needed book and hope it finds its way into school, university and public libraries everywhere. Ms. Kirk paints an impressive picture of a society that endured much, and overcame much, with great honour and dignity.

Irene Tomaszewski,
Cosmopolitan Review 3.4 (2012)

Kirk Offers Well-Written Account of “Solidarity”

Be Not Afraid: The Polish (R)evolution,“Solidarity” by Heather Kirk. Ottawa: Borealis Press, 2011.  Softbound, pp. 275, $19.95 CDN.  To order: www.borealispress.com/benotafraid.html. (U.S. credit cards accepted) or call tollfree (877) 696-2585.

Polish history is full of events of which Polish Americans can be rightly proud.  Medieval Poland was a sanctuary for Jews in a Europe where they often faced persecution.  Polish medieval and Renaissance philosophers and theologians like Pawel Wlodkowic laid key foundations for international law theory.  Sixteenth century Poland was “a state with out stakes” amidst the religious warfare of Reformation Europe.  The Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791 was among the most progressive of its time, exterminated at the hands of repressive empires like Russia, Prussia, and Austria.  In our own times, a son of Poland who sat on the Chair of Peter is increasingly recognized as one of the few Popes worthy of the title “the Great.”  And one common element of all these historical events is that they did not just benefit Poland alone, but represented milestones in Western civilization (even if, sometimes, Western civilization chooses to forget them).

Also in our own day, another of those great milestones through which many readers lived was the emergence and achievements of the trade union Solidarnosc (Solidarity).  Inspired by the inaugural call of John Paul II’s pontificate--“Be Not Afraid!”--and concretized by the Pope’s first visit to Poland, Solidarity did just what John Paul prayed for in Warsaw in 1979.  Solidarity helped “renew the face of the earth” by its struggle and its example.  It can be argued that tearing down the Berlin Wall began not at the Brandenburg Wall but in Gdansk’s Lenin Shipyard.

Canadian author Heather Kirk has written a popularly accessible portrait of Solidarity’s “golden age,” 1980-90.  The book is especially suited to (but not limited to) high school and college students.  Be Not Afraid is her take on a movement that “was the greatest non-violent resistance movement in history.  It lasted ten years.  It involved ten million people.  It helped change the world.  It killed precisely no one.”

The book is divided into eleven chapters.  Each chapter, in turn, includes sections like “creative nonfiction,” “history,” “biography,” “analysis,” and even a “Polish Joke.”  The “jokes” are, indeed, political jokes taken from the time, intended to show how the Poles could shrewdly size up their own situation, even with humor.  When little Jasiek is asked by his Communist teacher in school “Why do we call Czechoslovakia and East Germany our friends but the Soviet Union our brother?” the boy is quick to reply “Because you can pick your friends but you’re stuck with your brother.”

Kirk begins by introducing readers to Polish history, especially its twentieth century lot of being consigned behind the Iron Curtain. (A five-age outline of Polish history, focusing mostly on the twentieth century, is provided.)  Special attention is given to World War II (including both Katyn and the Underground Polish Resistance).  The book then moves through the worker-inspired uprisings of 1956, 1970, snd 1976, as well as the student uprising of 1968 and KOR. The election of Karol Wojtyla as Pope and his first visit to Poland is detailed, along with the path to the beginnings of Solidarity in Gdansk in the summer of 1980.  The history of that first phase of free Solidarity (1980-81) is discussed, as well as its brutal persecution under the martial law imposed in 1981.  But Solidarity continued its work underground throughout the 1980s (which led, for example, to the murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko).  Kirk’s story ends with the Roundtable Agreements of 1989, and the end of the Polish Peoples’ Republic and, finally, the end of the USSR. Among the biographies included in the book are Karol Wojtyla, Anna Walentynowicz, Lech Walesa, Adam Michnik. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Wojciech Jaruzelski, and Bronislaw Geremek.

The book is designed for people who know little to nothing about Poland: it often provides contexts that a pure history of Solidarity would not.  For example, the “geography” component in various chapters introduces readers to Krakow, Warsaw, and Gdansk.  The book is amply illustrated.  It includes examples from songs and texts of the time, e.g., “The Ballad of Janek Wisniewski,” a poem about the 18-year-old killed in the December 1970 food riots in Gdansk, whose body was borne by workers atop a door in newsreel footage.  Each chapter also offers suggestions to view various films, e.g., “Kanal” or listen to music, e.g. Gorecki’s “Symphony No. 3" to expose readers further to Polish culture.

The book is designed for people who know little to nothing about Poland: it often provides contexts that a pure history of Solidarity would not.

If somebody was teaching a course in Solidarity, this work would be a good textbook.  But anybody who wants a good, well-rounded and comprehensive mainstream presentation of Solidarity can read it.  Polish American youth will especially learn much about their ancestral homeland in this thoroughly modern presentation.  (“Modern?”--Well, the “suggested activities” also include “look up X on the Internet.”)

The book ends in 1990 and, of course, subsequent events do raise questions about how we should interpret the history of Solidarity.  Solidarity, after all, held together a Catholic wing as well as a wing that was happy to avail itself of Catholic protection even as it would subsequently pursue its own culture war against the “confessional state” once Poland was free.  The meaning of the Roundtable Agreements, expecially in terms of holding or not holding communists to account for what they did to Poland for forty-some years, also raised questions of how to interpret Solidarity.  Lech Walesa’s own background remains a subject of controversy.  But these issues are beyond the scope of Kirk’s book, which focuses on Solidarity’s “Golden Age” in the 1980s.  Awareness of these subsequent issues, however, does not detract from what this book offers.

Know some young people--Polish American or not--who should learn something about Poland and Solidarity at the same time? Want to learn something yourself about those issues in an easy- to-read, well-written book?  Consider giving or getting Be Not Afraid.  Placing a copy in your local library would also be a good idea.          

John Grondelski
Polish American Journal
July 2012: 15
.
Welcome to Heather Kirk's web site.
Who Were the Whiteoaks and Where Was Jalna?

“I love your manuscript, I just love it, and I think it definitely should be published. . . . It’s a lovely piece of scholarship. . . . It’s well written . . . beautifully written. . . . It certainly deserves to be out. . . . Congratulations!”

Frank Tierney
Professor
Department of English
University of Ottawa

“Recommended.”

Glenn Clever
Late Professor
Department of English
University of Ottawa

“An impressive body of research.”

Kevin Flynn
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Saskatchewan

“My first reaction is that of great respect for the extensive research and scholarship which are evident in the text itself and the copious, careful footnotes. . . . I’d say that this is probably the most intensive, exhaustive, and probably the definitive piece of work on de la Roche’s family connections and on their possible links with her fiction.  I don’t think that it’s possible for anyone to do anything more than you have done. . . . As a document . . . your manuscript is invaluable for de la Roche scholars.”

- John Lennox
Professor
Department of English
York University

“I have been reading Who Were the Whiteoaks and Where Was Jalna?.  What a treasure.  If I did not know the people or places involved, it would be interesting.  The amount of research involved and the interesting vignettes about the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the 1837 Uprising in Upper Canada, and the settlement of what is now Ontario, are, to me, priceless.  But it does touch people and places in my life, and that makes it even better.”

William Kell
Member, Innisfil Historical Society

“By dint of the weight of her research, we are duly convinced by the end of the proceedings that Jalna and the Whiteoaks are, indeed, a clever melding of the many places de la Roche and Clement lived and the people they knew.”

John Stewart
Reporter, Mississauga News
See John Stewart’s entire review, titled “Mazo, We Hardly Knew Ya,” in his regular column, Random Access, 23 Nov. 2007.
Welcome to Heather Kirk's web site.
Mazo de la Roche: Rich and Famous Writer
“You might think that after half-a-dozen biographies, there wouldn’t be much new to say or discover about Mazo de la Roche.  Wrong. Wrong.  Wrong. . . . Kirk has corrected the record admirably. . . . Her skilful use of the creative non-fiction form has the uncanny ability to transport the reader to a past era that feels absolutely authentic.  At points the author even manages to put us inside Mazo and Caroline’s heads and make that feel legitimate, which is quite a trick.”
- John Stewart, “Rediscovering Mazo,”
Mississauga News 13 Dec. 2006
"XYZ continues its excellent biography series for Young Adult Readers (The Quest Library) with the story of Mazo de la Roche, creator of Jalna and the Whiteoaks family saga. . . . In this biography Kirk calls on all the existing resources to make a rounded living character from someone who refused to be at the beck and call of her admiring public."
- Margaret Goldick, co-editor
Montreal Review of Books
10: 2 (Spring 2007).

“Mazo de la Roche, best known for her Jalna novels, was born in Ontario in 1879. . . .  This entertaining biography recounts her upbringing in the small towns of Ontario and shows how her real life influenced the characters and settings of the Whiteoaks estate of Jalna fame.  Heather Kirk has included a number of photographs and a detailed chronology of Mazo de la Roche’s life which includes not only what was happening with de la Roche and her literary achievements, but the parallel events happening in Canada and the world at the time. . . . The book details the challenges of being a woman writer in the 1930s, and the personal challenges both she and Caroline had with providing a secure living until Mazo became a success.  When she became a celebrated author, this book details how she preferred the quiet routines of home to the glare of celebrity status.

........“Written in easy to read language, this book describes the life and character of a fascinating woman who was not typical of women of her era.  Not only does it describe the imaginative child and the literate household that helped her skills develop, it also describes a brave spirit who coped with life’s challenges in an inspired, individualistic way.  It is highly recommended.”

- Diana Mumford and Betty Schultze
Canadian Teacher Magazine Fall 2007

“Kirk . . . has spent many years researching the lives of de la Roche and Clement and has corrected some major errors made by previous biographers. . . . Recommended.”

- Val Ken Lem
Canadian Materials Vol. XIV, No. 12,
Feb. 8, 2008

Welcome to Heather Kirk's web site.

Article on Mazo de la Roche

Heather’s article about Mazo de la Roche in Canadian Literature 184 (Spring 2005) was singled out for praise by Professor Stephen Henighan in the Times Literary Supplement of 4 Nov. 2005.  Heather’s article was titled, “Caroline Clement: The Hidden Life of Mazo de la Roche’s Collaborator.”  It was a critique of Joan Givner’s biography, Mazo de la Roche: The Hidden Life (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1989). Stephen Henighan wrote:

“Heather Kirk’s reconsideration of the life of Caroline Clement, the long-time companion of Mazo de la Roche, author of the best selling “Whiteoaks of Jalna” series of novels, has real bite.  Detailed archival research and skepticism in the face of the easy assumptions of earlier researchers make this a rare example, in the cozy field of Canadian literary studies, of an article that is debating with received opinion rather than reaffirming it.  Kirk’s resistance to cant, sad to say, may be related to her not being a career academic.”

- Stephen Henighan, “Canadian Literature,”
Times Literary Supplement 4 Nov. 2005

Welcome to Heather Kirk's web site.
Wacousta

“Barrie Author Breathes New Life into Classic Métis Novel.”

“Pity John Richardson, the first Canadian-born novelist, and not just because he died penniless and malnourished in New York City in 1852.  The publishing industry simply won’t let him rest in peace.  This Métis soldier and writer is best known for his novel Wacousta; a tale of murder, revenge and romance in old Fort Detroit in 1763.  Mr. Richardson, however, did not earn a pot of money, at least partially because the Americans published their own pirated edition.  Now, thanks to the work of one Barrie, Ont. author, Wacousta has been published again at half the length of the original text and in a fashion meant to win a new generation of readers.  ‘It’s a refurbished antique,’ says Heather Kirk, who decided about eight years ago to rewrite Wacousta.”

- Paul Gessell, Can West News Service
National Post 2 Aug. 2005

Wacousta remains important whatever version you read and not just because it was written by the first Canadian-born novelist.  It is impressive, despite the awkward language, because of its wealth of historical detail and the even-handed way it portrays both aboriginals and Europeans. Both groups are presented warts and all.  There are heroes and villains on both sides and even some inter-racial romance.”

- Paul Gessell, “Rewriting History,” 
Ottawa Citizen 2 Aug. 2005

“Richardson’s tale of the ‘Indian Wars’ of 1763 was first published in 1832. Kirk’s rewrite cleans up the clunky 19-century prose while keeping the gripping plot and details.”

- H.J. Kirchhoff, “Paperbacks,”
Globe and Mail 29 Oct. 2005

“First published in 1832, Major John Richardson’s three-volume Wacousta is a classic tale of the ‘Indian Wars’ of 1763 and the attacks on Fort Detroit and Fort Michilimackinac.  It’s a great yarn, but for many readers, alas, also a great yawn.  The New Canadian Library’s introduction to their 1967 abridged edition speaks of the ‘stiff, rhetorical, even archaic prose’ of the original.  Heather Kirk has dared to rewrite Richardson, using many of his phrases but also ‘translating’ many of the passages to make them more accessible and more appealing to modern readers.  Some may find this a travesty while others will thoroughly enjoy Kirk’s version--and may even be led back to check out the original!”

- Chris and Pat Raible, “From the Bookshelf,”
Ontario Historical Society Bulletin Dec. 2005
Welcome to Heather Kirk's web site.
Warsaw Spring

Warsaw Spring is “a history book, a romance novel, and a coming-of-age story all wrapped up between the covers of a young-adult fiction.”

- Donna Danyluk
Barrie Examiner 8 Dec. 2001

“Eva discovers Poland’s long history of suffering, the ongoing traumatic aftermath of World War II, and the debilitating influence of the communist regime of the day.  When Pope John Paul II visits Poland, Eva is amazed at the people’s faith and realizes she is witnessing rebirth not only of a nation but also of her inner bring.  She understands that the pope is leading a political as well as spiritual revolution.”

- Sonya Vanderveen Feddema
The Banner 22 Apr. 2002

“. . . a story told with skill and conviction for readers of all ages. . . . Kirk has structured her novel carefully and cleverly, showing Eva’s gradual education in people and place, her initial disbelief giving way to understanding and affection. We are well prepared for her climactic experiences, the worst and the best that Poland has to offer.”

- Clara Thomas
Books in Canada Apr. 2003

Welcome to Heather Kirk's web site.
A Drop of Rain

“The themes of this novel will be of interest to any teenager regardless of ethnic background: how people survive adversity, people caring for others, and that caring is passed on to others. It’s a well-written and satisfyingly deep novel.  Recommended.”

- Denise Moore, HI-RISE
Aug. 2004

“All libraries serving readers of junior high age should acquire this book, and libraries serving a large Polish community might want to consider more than one copy.”

- Margaret Mackey,
Resource Links 10.2 (2004)

“A deftly written novel which is especially appropriate for a young adult readership . . . the story of a sixteen-year-old girl starting at a new high school. Struggling with schoolwork, a lousy part-time job, the estrangement of the artistic guy she likes, and the sad toll of watching her aunt die and her mother inch closer to a nervous breakdown, she must find the strength to sustain herself and help her family.  Written as a series of diary entries by various people, A Drop of Rain is a timeless, powerful, and moving story of hope and perseverance.”

- “Children’s Book Watch,”
 Midwest Book Review Oct. 2004

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heather kirk, speaker
Heather Kirk Author