Friday, June 5, 2020

Little Altar Boy Reviewed in the WSJ!

First Major Review of Little Altar Boy!

The Wall Street Journal loved it!

Here’s what they said:

John Guzlowski’s powerful “Little Altar Boy” (Kasva Press, 323 pages, $14.95) centers on the fatal stabbing of a Chicago nun. Set in 1967, Mr. Guzlowski’s latest takes place a decade after events in his equally memorable “Suitcase Charlie,” which also featured Windy City detective Hank Purcell and his partner Marvin Bondarowicz.

The victim was beloved—saintly, some say. She had made a recent secret visit to Purcell’s home to alert him to the pedophiliac conduct of a parish priest. Did that confidential revelation prompt her murder? The priest in question seems to have a solid alibi, as does everyone else in the nun’s circumscribed world.

As he sorts out the nun’s killing, Hank is beyond distracted by the recent disappearance of his 19-year-old daughter, who had fallen into bad company. All this takes place right after Christmas, as snowfall covers Chicago with a sort of spiritual malaise. “He needed a miracle—maybe a few of them at once,” Hank thinks. What he gets instead is another dead body.

As Hank and his partner Marvin drive from one neighborhood to another, seeking information in rectories and blues clubs and drug dealers’ pads, Hank admits to himself: “He felt like a failure and a fool, like a man drowning in his own weakness and inadequacy.” But it’s also Hank’s habit to see a mission through to its end, however dire the consequences, cold the comfort, and irrevocable the harm to his family life and psychic health.

Here’s a link to the book’s amazon page:


Friday, April 24, 2020

My Mother and Her Ukrainian Neighbors

My Mother and Her Ukrainian Neighbors

Tens of thousands of Poles in Eastern Poland were killed between 1943 and 1944 by Ukrainian Nationalists working with the Germans.  July 11 was the day of the worst killing, a day when the Ukrainian Nationalists attacked 100 or so villages.  That was seventy-six years ago.

Much of my mother’s family was killed during this period by her Ukrainian neighbors.  Her mother was murdered, her sister was raped and killed, her sister's baby kicked to death.  My mother, a girl of 19 at the time, was able to survive by breaking through a window and running into a forest to hide.  She was found a couple days later by German soldiers.  They put my mother and a lot of the surviving Poles from her village in boxcars and shipped them to slave labor camps in Germany.  She spent the next 2 years in those camps.  After the war she was afraid to go back to her village. 

She was afraid that what happened to her brother who survived the war would happen to her.  When the war ended, he went back on a United Nations sponsored train to that section of Poland that had been taken over by the Russians and made a part of the Ukraine, and when he got off the train, there were Russian soldiers there who arrested him and put him on another train and sent him to a prison camp in Siberia.  He died there.

My mom and my dad made a trip to Poland in 1988.  They went back to her village to see if they could find the graves of her mom and sister and the sister's baby.  There were no graves.  The men who did the killing didn't take the time to dig graves and put up crosses or markers.  They probably just threw the Polish dead into a pit and shoveled dirt over them

During that trip, my mom actually made it to her old house, the one where the killing took place.  She knocked on the door and when someone answered her knocking, she introduced herself and told them that she had lived in this house when she was a girl, before the killings.

The person who answered the door, a Ukrainian fellow about my mom's age, said that he had been living in the house all his life and he didn't know her and didn't know what she was talking about.

My mom left and never went back.


This is my latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish newspaper in America.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Letter to My Mother

A Letter to My Mother

Dear Mom,

I know you’ve been gone a long time now, almost 15 years, but I dreamt I was with you again last night.

It was in the old house in Chicago, the one on Potomac Avenue, the first one I remember the number for.

You planted flowers there in the backyard where there had never been flowers, watered them with the water that fell from the sky. The flowers were so red and yellow and blue that you loved to just sit on the porch and watch them.

You washed my hair with that water too. You said it would keep me young and help me grow tall and smart and loving. I was too young to know what all those words really meant, but I believed you.

Autumn came finally, and the rain fell grayer and harder, and then there was snow, so much snow, and you put the snow in a dishpan and melted it and washed my hair with it.

You said the water from snow was just as pure as the water from the rain.

Years later in your last house in Arizona, the one I still remember the number for, I washed your hair with water from the sink.  You didn’t complain.  You understood.  You knew that there was no rain in the desert, no snow either.

While you waited for your hair to dry, you told me stories you never told me before.  You told me about your sister and the time she visited Lvov, the candy she found on the seat of the train, about your pet pig Carolina and how much you loved just sitting with her in the forest and watching the leaves fall in the coolness that followed those long summers. You told me about the war too, about the day the Germans came to your home in the forest west of Lvov and killed your mother and your sister and your sister’s baby.  You told me too that the German soldiers did other things that you still could not tell me about even though I was a grown man and a university professor.

I listened to your stories that I had never heard before and knew you like I had never known you, and when you asked me again where the water came from, I told you that I had collected it from the clouds.

Monday, April 13, 2020


Here’s my most recent column for the Polish Daily News. It’s a piece on aloneness during the pandemic:
This pandemic is like nothing I’ve ever experienced or seen before. I’ve lived through life in a refugee camp, blizzards, tornados, polio scares, hurricanes, atomic bomb drills, race riots, 9/11, blackouts that lasted for weeks, and the deaths of my parents and best friends. And none of that has prepared me for this.
For the last three weeks, I’ve been self-quarantined in my home here in Lynchburg, Virginia, with my wife and my daughter and my granddaughter. We’re all here waiting for something to end and not knowing really if it ever will.
And what do we do while we wait?
The number one thing is that we try to ignore that there is a pandemic.
We try to ignore the fact that the restaurants in town are closed except for curbside pickup, that the parks are closed or closing, that the churches and schools and libraries and museums are closed, that the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus rises here and throughout the US by about 20%, that people are dying here and across the world from some kind of virus that no one has any understanding of.
We try to ignore the fact that we haven’t seen any of our friends in three weeks, that the people we used to get together with every weekend for some laughs and some wine and some talk are suddenly so far away in their own confinement.
We try to ignore the fact that we are alone.
I’ve been alone in the past. In my 20s, I loved to go hitchhiking and camping alone. I’d pack a backpack and stand on the side of a highway until I got a ride to some wilderness in Montana or Idaho where I would be alone for a week or two weeks, but that aloneness was nothing like this aloneness. I knew that there were other people in the wilderness with me, and I knew too that all I had to do if the aloneness got to be too much for me was walk out of the wilderness and stick my thumb out and catch a ride back home to my home in Chicago. I was alone, but the aloneness was an aloneness that was temporary. It was an aloneness I could put an end to pretty easily. It was an aloneness I welcomed into my life, and it was an aloneness I could say. “so long to.”
This aloneness that I’m feeling in this pandemic is nothing like that. It’s an aloneness surrounded by a mystery, an aloneness in a wilderness we can’t just walk out of when we get tired of being alone.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The End of the World

The End of the World

My father used to say this all the time.  As a joke. He had seen the world end once before with his own eyes.  He had been in Buchenwald concentration camp for 4 years during World War II.  There he had seen his friends crucified, hanged, frozen to death. After the war, he had spent 6 years in a refugee camp in Germany, waiting for some country to welcome him and our family in.

And still he joked that the world was ending. Whenever anybody complained about anything, he’d start in joking about how it was the end of the world.

As a kid, if I lost my favorite cats-eye marble or my oldest baseball, I’d get teary-eyed.  And that’s when my dad would start. He would shake his head, put on a pretend frown, and say in Polish, “świat się kończy.”

The world is ending.

What could I do with the sorrow I felt? I shrugged like he did and said the same thing he said, “świat się kończy.”  

I’d say that and move on to the next bit of life I needed to live even if I couldn’t find my favorite marble or that special baseball.

Sometimes while watching the stuff about the coronavirus pandemic on the news, I feel like I’m hearing over and over that our world is ending.  In fact, journalists and commentators and even politicians are actually saying this. They’re saying that the world we now know and live in is coming to an end and it will never ever be the same, not in our lifetime or the lifetimes of our kids and our grandkids.

Is the world ending? 

I don’t know.  

What I do know is that I took a walk this morning with my granddaughter Lulu.  It sure didn’t feel like the world was ending. The spring sun was there, brighter and warmer than it’s been in months, and I heard sparrows and finches chattering about what they were eating.  Up the street, four kids were balancing themselves on a curb and seeing who could walk the longest without falling. A moment later, a mother and her toddler walked past us on the other side of the street.  The mom was holding her daughter’s hand, and her daughter was pointing at some yellow flowers that had just started blooming.  

świat się kończy?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020



That’s me.  I’m self-quarantined. 

I was pretty much there already given the health problems I’ve had during the last year: three  months of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the Norovirus, the Epstein Barr virus, “dangerous” blood clots swelling up my legs, and most recently a strep infection.  If you’ve been following my Facebook page, you’ve probably seen my periodic health updates and you’re probably thinking to yourself “when’s he going to stop with this whining?” Let me tell you, my whining isn’t going to stop anytime soon.  Even if I self-quarantine.

Before the strep showed up, I was only going outside a little because of my health concerns.  I’d take the trash out, walk to the cul de sac down the road and back, or take my grandaughter Lulu to the school-bus stop in the morning.  That kind of stuff.  If I was feeling really adventurous, I’d go with my wife Linda to the Kroger Supermarket and help her shop.  I liked getting out whether it was to the supermarket or to the curb where the trash cans were sitting.  I’d run into my neighbors or clerks I knew at the store, and we’d chew the fat for a minute or two.  I love complaining and all these health problems have given me a boat load of complaint topics.

All that has pretty much stopped.  The strep infection is part of it.  It’s scary.  I don’t want it, and I definitely don’t want to spread it around.  But what’s worse of course is the Coronavirus.  My fear of it keeps me in doors like nothing else.  If you look at any CDC list of who is most susceptible to this disease, you’ll find my name is prominently featured on that list.  I’m almost 72 years old, and I’ve got a history of heart failure and auto-immune problems that go way way back. I figure the Coronavirus is just waiting for me to peak out the window.

Every half hour or so, I go to a Coronavirus website and track where the disease is in Virginia where I now live.  Last week, it was only in Fairfax, 169 miles away, but every day it’s crept closer. To Richmond, Spotsylvania, and Harrisonburg.  And just today two cases were confirmed in Charlottesville, just about 60 miles up the road from where I live. 

I figure tomorrow morning when I get up, the Coronavirus will be here in Lynchburg. 


I don’t expect this story to have a happy ending — no matter how self-quarantined I am.

Monday, March 9, 2020

My Mother and Her Wheelchair

My mother couldn’t walk for the last five years of her life. She had terrible arthritis in her back, and she couldn’t stand up straight enough to walk or do much of anything.

But my mom got around — somehow — in an old rubber-tired wheelchair that she got from some charitable organization in Sun City, Arizona, where she retired to. She would shuttle around her small apartment in that wheelchair, move from the bedroom to the kitchen, and spin from there to the living. If she had to run an errand to the bank or the supermarket, she’d had a local volunteer service pick her and her wheelchair up in their van and take her where she needed to go. Once there, she would push her wheelchair where she wanted.

Every time I would visit her in Sun City, Arizona, I would always watch a lot of TV with her, and we would see these commercials for electric wheelchairs. Scooters they called them, I think.

I would say, “Mom, you should get one of those things, one of those scooters. It would make your life a whole lot easier. You could go out on the sidewalk and ride up and down the street. You could talk to your neighbors, get some sun. You could even go to church on Sunday mornings. It might take you a while to drive your electric wheelchair there, but you could do it. Imagine church. You haven’t been there in 2 or 3 years because you’re embarrassed by your old, rickety wheelchair, but one of these electric babies would have you smiling and gliding through life.”

She would listen to me going on and on like that about these electric wheelchairs, and she would just shrug.

She was Polish, born in what she called the old world, and she figured that electric-powered wheelchairs were just another modern con job, like that super spiffy can opener the people bought because it was shiny and advertised on TV and had moving parts.

She spent four, long years pushing those cracked and broken rubber wheels of her old-style wheelchair with her hands, and when her hands in that last year of her life got too tired to move her along, she just sat there at her front window, looking down at the street and dreaming about walking.


This is my latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish Daily in America.