Push Not the River by James Conroyd Martin is an epic tale of Poland in the late 1700s, based on the diaries of Lady Anna Maria Berezowska, a member of Polish aristocracy.
When both of her parents die within a short span of time, Anna must leave the only home she’s ever known. With Russian Empress Catherine’s armies poised to dismember the Polish state, Anna’s only protection is her Aunt Stella. When her ailing aunt is unable to provide the protection she needs, especially when she is maneuvered into marriage with a dissolute and abusive man, she turns to Jan, also a member of the aristocracy, but a supporter of more democracy and freedom for the peasantry, which puts him at odds with a large segment of his fellow aristocrats.
With Poland’s fate hanging in the balance, and a new-born son to protect, Anna must make decisions. The decisions she makes transform her into a major player in Poland’s quest for freedom. At the same time, she must deal with the machinations of her fiery cousin, Zofia, who is not sure where she stands on any issue but living a life filled with fun, wealth and frivolity.
With its main focus on Anna, this semi-autobiographical bit of historical fiction is populated with characters who, while sometimes larger than life, are limned in such a way to be relatable. Some you’ll love and admire; others you’ll want to see drawn and quartered; but you won’t forget any of them.
I give this opening volume of the trilogy five stars.