Controlled Conversations

Karol Lagodzki


In 1982 Soviet-controlled Poland—a time and place of suspicion and mistrust—when geopolitical forces and violent men descend upon her little town of Zygmuntowo, Emilia must decide if she’s willing to risk...

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In 1982 Soviet-controlled Poland—a time and place of suspicion and mistrust—when geopolitical forces and violent men descend upon her little town of Zygmuntowo, Emilia must decide if she’s willing to risk prison or worse for self-respect and for her unexpected love.

A telephone station switchboard operator ordered to monitor the calls she connects, Emilia overhears a mysterious coded conversation. It continues to distract her, but not as much as the growing realization that she’s falling in unsanctioned love with her best friend Kalina. Meanwhile, outside the city of Frombork, Antek, a shipyard engineer and a Solidarity labor union treasurer, escapes from prison and works to recover the union’s money, a task which in time leads him to Emilia’s town. In the metropolitan city of Gdańsk, Roman, a secret police major, wants the money for himself and dreams of his own escape and the magical beaches of Rio de Janeiro.

As the only daughter of a local Communist Party apparatchik, Emilia has enjoyed a sheltered life, but with the advent of martial law, her mother’s influence can no longer shield her. She faces choices she never expected to make when she discovers her best friend’s and lover’s involvement with the resistance. With new allies and enemies in town, the time to choose a side is now.

In his debut novel, Karol Lagodzki asks: What separates people who transcend their fear and take risks for the sake of change from the rest of us? The answer is up to the readers.

Product Details

by Karol Lagodzki
Page Count: 224
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Publish Date:  August 20, 2024 (PRE-RELEASE)
Imprint: Milford House Press
Genre: Fiction

FICTION / Political
FICTION / Literary
FICTION / Historical 


Controlled Conversations reminds us of a time—not very long ago—of the struggles, compromises, and corrosive impact of martial law on Soviet-controlled Poland. It is a story not of future Nobel laureates but of regular people with different backgrounds and ambitions in a search for dignity, the freedom to love who they choose, and a decent cup of tea. At this time of threats to democracy in Poland and globally, Lagodzki’s novel reminds us of the precariousness of personal liberty.” Lee A. Feinstein, former United States Ambassador to Poland.

"Karol Lagodzki's debut novel Controlled Conversations, set in 1980s Poland under martial law, is both taut and timely, reminding us that conflicts in Eastern Europe have the power to shake the rest of the world. Lagodzki really knows his characters, and he writes about them with unfailing empathy. The book is riveting, and I loved reading it. I seldom find a contemporary novel this engrossing." Steve Yarbrough, author of The Unmade World, Stay Gone Days, and many other novels.

“In his exceptional and precise debut novel, Controlled Conversations, Karol Lagodzki delivers a taut, psychologically rich literary thriller set in morally fraught, Soviet-controlled 1980s Poland. At the core of the drama is the theme of control, both self-control and state control. Each character—however pure of heart or nefarious—attempts to maintain intra- and inter-personal moral principles in the face of powerful external forces. Though Controlled Conversations is a tea steeped in the milieu of a perhaps-forgotten time, it is also a timeless tale that shines a light on values which are, to this day, so very fragile: humanity, decency, love, and justice. With a courageous voice, Lagodzki assumes the mantle of the late John le Carré.” Fredrick Soukup, author of Bliss, Blood Up North, and Ashes, Ashes

“Karol Lagodzki has created an irresistible story populated by a rich, complex and unique cast of characters whose dreams, desires and circumstances are as firmly and believably anchored in a specific place and time as they are relevant to today. Controlled Conversations is a captivating narrative so beautifully crafted that it will keep you reading to the last page, and once it is over, will make you want more. The story gets under your skin and makes you laugh and cry and wonder what you would have done then, and what you can or should do now. It is bigger than any label, but in the end, it is a love story at once about the limitations and endless possibilities of humanity.” Elaine Monaghan, Reuters correspondent, author of On the Brink.

“In his debut novel, Karol Lagodzki gives a literary read, layered in psychological insight and suspense, but which is at heart a love story—one fraught with tension and desire and rendered in beauty. As a queer writer, I was drawn particularly to the central relationship of Controlled Conversations, a lesbian love story set amidst the life-threatening tensions of 1980s Soviet-controlled, martial-law Poland, a risky time and place to be alive, but riskier still to be queer and embroiled in political conflict.” Brandy T. Wilson, author of The Palace Blues.

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