In the winter of 1964, three weeks after defecting from Poland and the night after playing a flashy holiday performance with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, Leshek Zavistovski was arrested and faced deportation to a gulag. His troubles started, however, long before he was a fugitive cellist behind bars.
As a four-year-old child he was abandoned in a remote Polish village, kidnapped by Cossack scouts for the Red Army, and swept into the Eastern Front. They made him a tiny Russian Army uniform and put him under the protection of a powerful general who thought "little Losha" brought him luck. Under the general’s care, he witnessed the ravages of war — torture, slaughter, rape — but the general kept him safe and Leshek loved him.
After the war he was reunited with his clever, superstitious Jewish mother who had an affinity for hunchbacks, and his strict, Catholic father who (as a rebel fighter in the Polish Underground) used to warn him, "children and fish don't talk.” At 26 years-old Leshek fled Communist Poland to New York City with only his cello, 75 cents and a small tin replica of the Empire State Building in his pocket. He found work as (of all things) a nanny for a famous African-American composer, and a hapless chauffeur for a Park Avenue socialite. Leopold Stokowski invited the handsome young cellist to play for him and his prickly Persian cat in their opulent Fifth Avenue apartment. Leshek must have impressed the cat, because the Maestro hired him to be Associate Principal cellist of the American Symphony where Leshek pursued the love of his life on the stage of Carnegie Hall. When two immigration officers finally caught up with him and dragged him before a pitiless judge, only Leshek's wit and wisdom could save him from deportation.
This captivating 100,000-word memoir is a breathtaking tale of survival, taking readers from the poverty of post-war Poland to the lavish dinner tables of America’s rich and famous. It is a powerful, intimate story about the indomitable will of a man who searched for freedom over fear, the story of an immigrant, a survivor, a dreamer, a sensate, an artist, and a lover. But it is more than Leshek’s dramatic tale. He recounts in thrilling detail his father’s defiance of the Nazis in the Warsaw Uprising, the ghastly deeds of Cossacks and the Soviet KGB, the hilarious antics of a foreigner at the height of McCarthyism, the vibrant world of the Metropolitan Opera in the 1960s, his elderly mother’s foxy attempt to crush the Iron Curtain with homemade posters and glue, and numerous encounters with Polish sausage. Children and Fish Don't Talk is also a moving collaboration between three Zavistovskis committed to bringing this adventure to the page.