Tarnowski, Andrew 1940-

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Tarnowski, Andrew 1940-


Born 1940, in Geneva, Switzerland; son of Stas and Chouquette Tarnowski; immigrated to England, 1943; married; wife's name Wafa; children: four. Education: Attended Oxford University.


Home—Dubai. Agent—Marcella Edwards, PFD Group, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.


Reuters News Agency, London, England, foreign correspondent, 1965-c.1997; Gulf News, Dubai, journalism coach, c.1995—.


The Last Mazurka: A Family's Tale of War, Passion, and Loss, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.


In The Last Mazurka: A Family's Tale of War, Passion, and Loss, Andrew Tarnowski chronicles the saga of his family, one of the ancient aristocratic clans of Poland. Born in Geneva in 1940, where his Polish parents had found temporary refuge after fleeing the Nazi invasion of their homeland, Tarnowski grew up in England knowing little about his background. It was not until he took a post as Reuters bureau chief in Warsaw in 1988 that Tarnowski had the opportunity to learn firsthand about his parents' country and his extended family. He went on to discover a story of passionate and flawed individuals whose feudal lifestyle was shattered by the traumas of the first and second world wars.

"As a journalist," Tarnowski told Polish Culture Web site interviewer Justyna Staszek, "I decided to treat the family as frankly as I treated the subjects of my news stories during thirty years with Reuters—with complete accuracy and truth." Tarnowski describes the life of privilege that his grandfather enjoyed at the ancestral estate near Krakow, where family hunted wild boar, attended balls, and conducted romances. On his wedding night, Tarnowski's grandfather—apparently in response to some unnamed attack on his honor—shot himself in the chest, but he survived to preside over an unhappy family, including son Stas and daughter Sophie. Young adults in 1939 when Poland was invaded by the Nazis and the Soviets, Stas and his sister, with their spouses, fled through Romania, France, Switzerland, Yugoslavia and Greece before ending up in British-occupied Palestine. Stas joined allied troops fighting Rommel's troops in Africa, while Sophie organized the Polish Red Cross in Egypt. With Poland in ruins after the war, the Tarnowskis settled in England, where Stas's violent temper, drunkenness, and adultery took their toll. He and Chouquette divorced; when her second marriage failed she committed suicide. Stas, alienated from the Polish émigré community in London because of his willingness to cooperate with the Polish communist government, eventually returned to Poland.

Many reviewers saw The Last Mazurka as an epic account of the tragic effects of war. Sydney Morning Herald writer Bruce Elder described the book as "the story of how the two great wars of the twentieth century swept away an entire culture and lifestyle." Michael Kenney, writing in the Boston Globe, observed that "there have been many other accounts of the wartime upheaval that shook European society, but few have captured the world of its privileged members before, and after, as vividly and movingly as has Tarnowski." In the London Times, reviewer Daniel Johnson wrote that the book "is one man's act of solidarity with his people: past, present and to come."

Yet other reviewers emphasized family dynamics as the core of the book. Readers hoping to find in The Last Mazurka a romantic story of doomed Polish aristocrats bravely defying occupying armies, wrote Spectator contributor Adam Zamoyski, "will get a great deal more than they bargained for. This is Gone with the Wind scripted for the Addams family." Indeed, the Tarnowski Family Association expelled Tarnowski on grounds that his book violates the purposes of the organization. Even so, Tarnowski told Staszek, he feels he has written the truth. "I wanted to build a monument to my forefathers and their semi-feudal world, which was swept away by World War Two and communism," he explained. "I don't hold it up as an ideal, but try to show those people exactly as they were, warts and all, because that is the only way for their monument to have integrity and be credible."



Tarnowski, Andrew, The Last Mazurka: A Family's Tale of War, Passion, and Loss, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.


Booklist, August, 2007, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Last Mazurka, p. 27.

Boston Globe, August 14, 2007, Michael Kenney, review of The Last Mazurka.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2007, review of The Last Mazurka.

Spectator, June 17, 2006, Adam Zamoyski, "A Long Losing Run."

Sydney Morning Herald, September 28, 2006, Bruce Elder, review of The Last Mazurka.

Times (London, England), June 11, 2006, Daniel Johnson, review of The Last Mazurka.


Ampleforth,http://www.ampleforth.org.uk/ (February 25, 2008), Andrew Tarnowski profile.

Polish Culture Web site,http://www.polishculture.co.uk/ (February 25, 2008), Justyna Staszek, interview with Andrew Tarnowski.