Book Reviews

From The Folknik Sept/Oct 2000

Polish-American Folklore - Deborah Anders Silverman

University of Illinois Press, $29.95,

In this book, the term "folklore" is used in its broadest possible sense to include everything from religious celebrations to folk remedies to ethnic foods to stories and music. Also, the folklore of Polonia, the Polish-American community which can be found within cities, towns, and villages in the United States is compared with that of "the old country", especially that of the peasant class which constitutes the majority of the ancestors of Polish-American immigrants. Since all this material is covered in a scant 180 pages, this work can only be regarded as a survey of the subject.

In many areas, coverage is so brief that the result is little more than a listing of folk practices without much discussion or analysis. In some other areas, such as the two chapters on the polka and other Polish folk dances, there is a more satisfying depth. There is also an interesting analysis of why different people retain various folk customs including class differences.

Finally, it should be said that this work discusses the folklore of those who would refer to themselves as Polish-Americans or of Polish descent. This means the Catholic Poles. It does not include the Jewish population of Poland whose folklore would more properly be included in a study of all eastern European Jews.

-Bev and Jerry Praver -

Long Steel Rail - Norm Cohen

University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, $32.95,

This is the definitive work on railroad and railroad related songs from "John Henry" and "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad" to many lesser known works. The depth of the research is astounding. To put the songs in context, the first three chapters are devoted to a history of railroads in the United States, a history of American music, and an overview of American railroad songs. The remaining chapters contain the words, music, and historical background of 85 traditional songs.

Following each song, there is an incredible list of written and recorded sources including principal versions, other published printed versions, other unpublished printed versions, 78‑rpm recordings, 45‑ and 33‑rpm recordings, and field recordings. For example, "John Henry" occupies 29 pages and contains nearly 125 published and over 475 recorded references.

The first edition of this work was published in 1981 and was immediately acclaimed as the standard reference work on the subject. The second edition, published in 2000, actually updates and expands the references to include many re-releases of old recordings on CDs which had not been invented at the time of the first edition.

Although it is rather pricey for a paperback, we have owned the 700‑plus‑page first edition for several years and have found it to be an invaluable reference tool.

- Bev and Jerry Praver

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