You know this annoying situation when you’re at the airport and still have over an hour to your flight and you finish the book you had with you? Well, this happened to me recently, so I did the only reasonable thing and went to the airport bookshop. As always the selection is pretty skewed, but they had a few non-fiction books and this one is from a publisher I like and about a city I was interested in.
Łódź is a city in Poland, basically in the middle of the country. I know the name must seem unpronounceable to you, but if you say would you like some tea? Then the first syllable is basically how you say Łódź. The city grew rapidly with the development of the textile industry and then collapsed in the 1990s after the industry, for years protected by the communist planned economy, proved to be unsustainable n a competing environment. So kind of like Polish Detroit, just with textiles instead of cars.
Once the second biggest city in the country, it’s been continuously shrinking for the past 30 years, drained by the nearby Warsaw. I’ve been to Łódź several times in those 30 years and have seen it change. From a sad, dangerous, and depressed city that has seemed to give up, gradually it transformed itself into a still a bit dangerous, but edgy place with a strong undercurrent of creative activity.
This book is a collection of texts by two journalists. Wojciech Górecki refreshes the texts he published in the 1990s when Łódź was going through a collapse, with the main industry failing and hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. Bartosz Józefiak supplements the perspective with newer texts from around 2010-2017.
Because of its construction, the book feels very disparate. There’s a lot of focus on the 1990s, but also more on the political and economic side than on the impact it had on real people. Józefiak tends to pay more attention to those personal stories, but his texts feel like a minority and they don’t connect well. I feel like I read more about specific politicians and their misdeeds than about the city and people who live in it. There was hardly any mention of the city’s creative side, while for me this contrasted with the poverty and inherited unemployment is what defines the tension that makes Łódź special.
Another thing that made Łódź special is the fact that the industry that led to its glory was built by three nations side by side: Germans, Jews and Poles. This diversity has been completely erased from the city by WWII and the subsequent communist regime. And not only erased it seems it’s been forgotten.
To sum up an extremely rich and interesting topic with average execution. A pity.