“My Warszawa” is the story of a successful writer’s progressive loss of self-control and self-confidence during a week spent in Poland. Early in the narrative, Joyce Carol Oates gives an account of the kind of gossip Judith Horne’s celebrity has generated but then shifts the point of view to her protagonist’s own self-doubts. Apparently, public curiosity about her ethnic background and essential femininity has already fueled Judith’s “morbidly sensitive consciousness,” and this “hyperesthesia” will be further aggravated by the experience of being an American traveling in a Soviet-bloc country.
The story is structured around a series of incidents that mark Judith Horne’s growing sense of alienation and awareness of her Jewish roots. As a foreigner in Warsaw, she is particularly disoriented by ignorance of the Polish language (“not a word, not a phrase is familiar”), by the annoying haze of smoke that fills every meeting room and restaurant, and by her inability to make sense of the relationship between Poland’s past and its present. Judith and her colleagues often describe Poland as a tragic country, an occupied country that is the victim of Soviet oppression. However, Judith, almost despite herself, keeps uncovering evidence of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism and cannot help remembering that there was a pogrom in Warsaw in 1946. At first, she feels guilty “for her freedom, her American spirit,” the passport that allows her to...
(The entire section is 541 words.)