The Essential Guide to
Being Polish

50 Facts & Facets
of Nationhood

Anna Spysz &
Marta Turek

Edited by Anna Spysz

"I invite you on this journey into the depths 
of the Polish soul." 
from the Foreword by Lech Walesa
An indispensable reference for travelers, 
anyone who knows a Pole or is one, 
and the just plain interested

"[A] carefully researched but reader-friendly peregrination through the story of Polanda thrilling if sometimes depressing ride you wouldn't believe if you read it in a novel. . . . I can say honestly . . . that The Essential Guide to Being Polish will not disappoint."
Jamie Stokes, 
Krakow Post

"Do you plan to visit Poland for the first time? Are you contemplating a return trip? Do you enjoy reading about other countries and their cultures? If you answered 'yes' to any of the above then you must read The Essential Guide to Being Polish. Once you start reading, you'll want to read it all." Am-Pol Eagle

"The Essential Guide to Being Polish recounts the political and cultural history of Poland—and, if you will, of Polishness—with a reader-friendly, streamlined clarity that . . . never loses sight of the essential complexity of its subject." 
—Stuart Dybek, award-winning author of The Coast of Chicago and 
I Sailed with Magellan

(Cover design © 
Oscar Boskovitz)

978-0-9850623-0-9 • 16 July 2013 • Paper • $17.95 US / $19.95 CAN • 6 x 9 • 336 pages with index • 30 b&w images & 5 maps throughout


Being Polish is no joke. For more than ten million people of Polish ancestry in North America, it is a heartfelt matter—and amid all the guides to Poland and its language and customs, there is no single, entertaining and yet thoroughly informative reference on what it means to be Polish. EnterThe Essential Guide to Being Polish. 

What most Poles learn from life about the Polish mind is now available in this reader-friendly guide that brings together fifty concise, compelling chapters on the country's history, geography, communist past, postcommunist present, language, religions (with special focus on Pope John Paul II), holidays, food, drink, literature, music, famous scientists, and more. What is a real Polish wedding all about?That, too, is addressed succinctly and with flair in these pages.


Anna Spysz is the former editor-in-chief of the Krakow Post, Poland's only English-language newspaper. Born in Warsaw, she moved to Texas with her parents at the age of six. She graduated in 2004 from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in English and subsequently moved to Krakow, where she earned an MA in Central and Eastern European Studies from the Jagiellonian University. She currently lives in Krakow, where in addition to working as a freelance writer and translator, she dabbles in photography, graphic design, and music. Her website is

Marta Turek
 moved from Poland to the United States with her parents in 1981, when she was four years old. Settling first in Chicago and later in Seattle, her whole family decided to return to Poland in 1993. She finished high school in Poznan and graduated from Adam Mickiewicz University with an MA in English Linguistics in 2001. She has taught English as a second language at private schools and universities on both sides of the Atlantic. Marta currently lives in Rokietnica, Poland, and specializes in proofreading translations and English-language texts. 

The Essential Guide to
Being Hungarian

50 Facts & Facets
of Nationhood 

Edited by Istvan Bori

A book that will teach you how to be Hungarian, even if you already are

“A useful and entertaining appetizer for those who are interested in 

the past and present of Hungary and the Hungarians.” 
Paul Lendvai, author of 
The Hungarians

A quick, often humorous look at what being Hungarian is all about, this book will be appreciated by family or friends of Hungarian descent who could stand to know us better, and it is an excellent source of facts for those who aren't Hungarian but long to join us. 
Imre Lendvai-Lintner, 
President of the Hungarian Scout Association Abroad

An anthology of well-written, witty, and self-critical pieces, reviving national stereotypes in tasteful, if not always PC humor. . . . Like the entries of an encyclopedia, each chapter initiates the reader into a facet of Hungarian life that is more or less obvious to Hungarians, but probably either unknown to or misunderstood by foreigners. —Dániel Dányi,Hungarian Literature Online

Travel / Eastern Europe • 978-0-9825781-0-0
Paper • July 3, 2012 • $17.95 US 
5.5 x 8.5 • 208 pages • 30+ b&w illus. 


What is it to be Hungarian? What does it feel like? Most Hungarians are convinced that the rest of the world just doesn’t get them. They are right. True, much of the world thinks highly of Hungarians—for reasons ranging from their heroism in the 1956 revolution to their genius as mathematicians, physicists, and financiers. But Hungarians do often seem to be living proof of the old joke that Magyars are in fact Martians: they may be situated in the very heart of Europe, but they are equipped with a confounding language, extraterrestrial (albeit endearing) accents, and an unearthly way of thinking.

What most Hungarians learn from life about the Magyar mind is now available, for the first time, in this user-friendly guide to what being Hungarian is all about.

The Essential Guide to Being Hungarian brings together twelve authors well-versed in the quintessential ingredients of being Hungarian—from the stereotypical Magyar man to the stereotypical Magyar woman, foods to folk customs, livestock to literature, film to philosophy, politics to porcelain, and scientists to sports.

In fifty short, highly readable, often witty, sometimes politically incorrect, but always candid articles, the authors demonstrate that being credibly Hungarian—like being French, Polish or Japanese—is largely a matter of carrying around in your head a potpourri of conceptions and preconceptions acquired over the years from your elders, society, school, the streets, and mass media.

Compacting this wealth of knowledge into an irresistible little book, The Essential Guide to Being Hungarian
 is an indispensable reference that will teach you how to be Hungarian, even if you already are.

Book cover design by Oszkár Boskovitz, with contributions by Bret Kerr and Mark Insalaco; embroidered mustache © Onomé Ekeh; coin © Shutterstock

Petra K and the Blackhearts


a novel by
M. Henderson Ellis

A dark and magical journey 
into one girl’s transformation 
from impassive follower into child revolutionary


"A breathless . . . adventure 

. . . . Meticulously imagined, Petra's city 


is built on ancient layers of cultures and traditions, 


with magic woven into its fabric. . . . [A] remarkable 


and distinctive offering for devoted fantasy fans." 

Kirkus Reviews

"Ellis's . . . years living in Eastern Europe give this steampunk fantasy . . . a strong sense of place and an unerring ear for the newspeak of totalitarianism. Archibald the Precious, a child dictator . . . takes the reins in Pava, the crumbling city-state in which Petra K lives. . . . Ellis's pacing and plotting show considerable gifts as Petra draws closer to the secret of Archibald's power." 
Publishers Weekly

"Mocked at school and neglected at home, young Petra K finds sanctuary in the streets of Pava, where forbidden magic is still practiced, mechanized automatons hawk their wares, and miniature dragons run wild. . . . The blend of magic and machinery is eerily intriguing, much as 
in William Alexander's Goblin Secrets." 
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Welcome to Pava, 
a city where miniaturized show-dragons are pitted against each other in secret, forbidden tournaments, and magic has been outlawed by a cruel child dictator. Here lives Petra K. When she becomes the master of a dragonka everyone wants, she needs to decide whom to trust and whom to betray in order to keep herself and her pet safe. But revolution is in the air, and Petra K too is caught up in its pull. Only the Blackhearts, a gang of orphan children, dare to defy the new dictator’s rule, selling potions to survive. Along with the Blackhearts, Petra K faces a murderous pack of mechanical dragonka, a phantom secret agent—and, most harrowing, her own weaknesses. Will the Blackhearts’ adventures and courage inspire the terrified population to rise up again, and return Pava to a place of prosperity, where dragonka run free? 
In the tradition of Philip Pullman, Laini Taylor, and Jonathan Stroud, M. Henderson Ellis’s Petra K and the Blackhearts is a powerful fantasy that brings legends of “magic Prague”—alchemists, hauntings, and mysticism—head to head with modern-day issues like consumerism, peer pressure, and self-esteem. 

FICTION • 14 years & up • 978-0-9850623-8-5 • 208 pages  • 
Trade Paperback Original • February 4, 2014 • $11.99 US ($11.99 CAN) • 5.5 x 8.5 • United States 

Cover Illustration: Laszlo Hackl, Cover Design: Hadley Kincade

About the Author

M. Henderson Ellis is the author of Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Cafe (New Europe Books, 2012), which Booklist called “a manic, wild ride. . . . thoroughly enjoyable.” A Chicago native and graduate of Bennington College, he has lived for the past decade in Budapest, Hungary, and lived previously in Prague.  

Reading group guide

1. How different from or similar to a modern-day city is Pava? Does it remind you of a particular city—or cities?

2. Is Luma’s personality more like that of a pet or a wild beast? Can you see any similarities between the dragonka and traditional dragons?  

3. What is the relationship like between Petra K and her mother? What are some of their problems and how might they have been overcome in ways not written about in the book?

4. Petra K’s father is a largely absent, but nonetheless significant figure in her, and Luma’s, fate. How would you characterize their relationship and its evolution over the course of the novel?

5. What are some of the stranger aspects of Jozseftown? Are there any similarities between it and modern urban slums?

6. Do the Zsida, the Half Not communities—not to mention the Kubikula—remind you of minority communities or subcultures in the real world?

7. Petra K grows closer to Deklyn over the course of the novel as a bond¾affection (or even love?) born of mutual respect—takes shape between them. Still, even as each is part of a community (e.g., Jozseftown, the Blackhearts), they are solitary figures. Petra K once comments, “Deklyn was the most alone person I had ever met.” Is it precisely their loneliness that draws them together¾or something else?

8. The ending suggests that Petra K has found a family of sorts among the Blackhearts. Has she? Is this likely to compensate for the lack of a traditional family she can go home to? 

9. How does Petra K change over the course of the novel? Where are some of the points in the novel where she is forced to make a decision?

10. Petra K and the Blackhearts can be read and enjoyed as a riveting fantasy novel independent of any larger context—and yet it is seems all the richer for being set in a city in the throes of revolution, in the grip of historical events that seem eerily familiar. What tragic eras of the past, and the twentieth century in particular, does it evoke?

11. Compare Petra K and the Blackhearts to other, similar novels you have read—whether in light of its fantasy elements, its Old World setting, or the real-world history that inspired it.


Illegal Liaisons

a novel of Brussels by Grazyna Plebanek

Translated by Danusia Stok

"Plebanek's crisp and intelligent new novel is full of pitch-perfect descriptions, mostly but not exclusively about sex and its contemplation. . . . A merciless comedy of modern manners, and the politics of desire."
Publishers Weekly

"A remarkable achievement. This riveting novel not only shows that intimate liaisons can feel every bit as 'illegal' as they do dangerous, but it also offers penetrating insights into the confluence of the personal and the political--here, at the heart of a twenty-first-century Europe where conceptions of gender roles and morality clash, comingle, and are redefined. 
A must for anyone with a mind for the erotic 
who also values their mind." 

Catherine Millet, author of The Sexual Life of Catherine M.

"A writer of courage and intelligence, exceptionally well-positioned to examine a new European order, and a world where international maneuverings translate into personal intrigues."

"Powerfully erotic and intelligent." 
—Maggie Gee, author of The Ice People and My Animal Life

"Intense and fascinating. . . . Thoughtful, unashamed, brave, and ultimately beautiful." —

"Grazyna Plebanek's tantalising Illegal Liaisons breaks down barriers with its thrilling descriptions of sex and acute observations of life in Brussels where the author resides. A father, husband and a writer caught up in a relationship with two women. Need I say more?" 

"Writing about sex is nothing new. But writing about it and doing it well is a talent of only a few, and Grazyna Plebanek is one of those few." 
—Blogravia (

Cover image © Merry Alpern

Fiction • 978-0-9850623-6-1 • 1 September 2013 • Paper $14.95 US / $16.95 CAN 
5.5 x 8.5 • 256 pages • United States and Canada 


Aspiring writer Jonathan puts his career on hold to follow his wife to Brussels, but finds himself drawn into an affair with the beautiful yet elusive Andrea. What follows is a tormenting battle between conscience and desire.ÊComplex and compelling, Illegal Liaisons is a penetrating work of erotic imagination and a chilling portrait of the nature of love.


Grazyna Plebanek is the highly acclaimed and bestselling novels Pudekoze szpilkami (Box of Stilettos; 2002), Dziewczyny z Portofino (Girls from Portofino; 2005), and Przystupa (A Girl Called Przystupa, 2007). Nielegalne zwiezki (Illegal Liaisons; 2010) has sold nearly 30,000 copies in Poland. In 2011 Plebanek was awarded Zlote Sowy literary prize for her contribution to promoting Poland abroad. Plebanek is among a group of international artists whose portraits will be exhibited in Brussels Gare de Ouest for the next ten years. She lives in Brussels, Belgium.


Danusia Stok
 is a translator from Polish of long and short literary fiction, TV interviews, and screenplays. She lives in London, England.

Reading Group Guide

1. Illegal Liaisons is concerned with the erotic, but is it “literary erotica”? Is it better characterized as a “literary novel about love that invariably has an erotic edge”? Do such distinctions matter much? What other novels, whether classic or contemporary, does it conjure up? How is it similar to, or different than them in its approach to matters erotic?

2. Critics have praised the language of the book's erotic scenes as being neither vulgar nor medical, but rather “a language in which the body finds its dignity.” Do you agree? 

3. Illegal Liaisons is set in present-day Brussels, the cosmopolitan, Western European capital of the European Union; and yet its key characters are from Poland, a relatively homogenous, postcommunist nation set in "Eastern Europe"--a country they both miss and are glad to be out of. How does the ensuing cultural tension help shape the novel, driving forward the narrative? Does the novel give a hopeful, progressive view of the prospects of increasing European unity (whether between countries, individuals, or genders), not so hopeful, or neither?

4. While all of the characters in the novel are “outsiders,” being Polish (and Swedish) expatriates in Belgium, Jonathan is also the only nonprofessional at all of the parties he and Megi attend; he doesn’t have a full-time job, that is, and as a writer, he is no Brussels bureaucrat. How does this further isolation affect Jonathan throughout the novel? How does it shape his relationships with Andrea and Megi?

5. Beyond being about passionate, sexual/erotic love between adults, Illegal Liaisons is also very much about the love of a parent for his/her children, as well as the love that may bind a couple after years together even if the physical passion has waned. Comment on the book's multifaceted exploration of love.

6. How are Jonathan and his friend Stefan alike? How are they different? What insights into Jonathan’s character are we given through his interactions with Stefan?

7. Although the novel is mostly told through Jonathan’s point of view, we get occasional glances into Megi’s mind. What do these moments add to the novel, and why do you think the author chose to show so little of Megi’s point of view, or her point of view at all?
8. How do Jonathan’s writing course and the students in it affect him as a character?

9. Consider the role religion plays in the novel. What is the significance of Andrea and Jonathan meeting at a church, for example?

10. What role do the wild dogs in Jonathan’s book play? How do they change as Jonathan changes?

11. Does Jonathan find a certain peace, in the end? Has he grown from his experience, and if so, how? 

Just a Bite
A Transylvania
Vampire Expert's 
Short History of the Undead

István Pivárcsi

"As a Hungarian, Pivárcsi is able to provide a perspective on the so-called original Dracula that we don't often get with Americans. . . . [T]his is a book that any author of paranormal fiction should have on hand."


A concise history of vampires by a Hungarian historian and a nonfiction author who knows his subject first-hand, as he regularly gives vampire tours in Transylvania. The ideal reference for anyone with at least a passing interest in the undead, Just a Bite includes a two-part appendix comprising a glossary of vampire terms as well as a chronology of human beings' fascination (and interaction) with vampires through history. 

Cover design © Andras Baranyai

Occult / Eastern European History 978-0-9825781-4-8 • Paper 
October 2, 2012 • $14.95 US • 4.75 x 7 • 304 pages • 25 b&w illus. throughout • World Rights 

István Pivárcsi is the author of twenty-two books in his native Hungary on a wide range of subjects, including short histories of witchcraft and of cannibalism, historical travelogues, and a history of political assassinations. His works are informed by his twenty-five years as a teacher of history at the college and high school levels, and his twenty years as a tour guide throughout Europe. Just a Bite was inspired by Pivárcsi's research into the customs, folklore, and mythology of various ethnic groups in and around Hungary—in particular, Transylvania, where he has spent many years leading tour groups on excursions to the very castles and villages connected with the historical figures behind such classic works as Bram Stoker's Dracula. He lives in Budapest.