The Clarinet Polka


The Clarinet Polka, the seventh novel in Keith Maillard’s acclaimed Raysburg series, is a stunning portrait of Polish America and of one man’s struggle to find the meaning in his life and roots. The year is 1969, the Vietnam War is raging, and Jimmy Koprowski has just finished a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force and returned home to the steel mills and smokey skies of Raysburg, West Virginia. Restless and unsure of what to do with his life, Jimmy drifts into a destructive, sexually addictive affair with Connie, a married woman, and his drinking begins to get the best of him. Meanwhile, his younger sister has started an all-girl polka band, and through the band he meets Janice, a talented young clarinetist whose life is haunted by tragic events that took place in wartime Poland before she was born. Before long, Jimmy finds himself torn between these two women and forced to confront the biggest problem in his life: himself.

Maillard’s rich narrative is about the psychological and physical ravages of war that are passed on through the generations and about the healing powers of language, music, and tradition. This pitch-perfect portrait of working-class Polish America is a funny yet serious tale of lust and love, despair and redemption.


In an earlier generation, perhaps only Thomas Wolfe mined the veins of American memory as Maillard...has done in his Raysburg novels.

Vancouver Sun

Recalls Balzac or George Elliot...immensely satisfying.

Kirkus Reviews

It is Maillard's evocation of by-gone eras that truly demonstrate his genius as a novelist.

Calgary Herald

...Maillard's world is fast, earthy, and one hell of a lot of fun.

Georgia Straight

To read the Clarinet Polka is to step to an irresistible, lifeward, soul-affirming beat.

Edmonton Journal

Maillard is a pro at effortlessly evoking a realistic, memorable world.

Globe and Mail

Maillard...has once again written an absolutely captivating novel, this time a warm and wonderful story of reconciliation and redemption, chock-full of memorable characters and true to its time and place.

Library Journal

The Clarinet Polka is a hugely readable book, an old-fashioned novel with plot, purpose and poetry.

Sun Times

...The Clarinet Polka brings the reader into the world of the Polish immigrants and refugees who came to the Ohio Valley seeking safety and prosperity. Maillard's eye for exquisite detail, which he used with such stunning effect in Light in the Company of Women and Gloria, does not fail him here.

Books in Canada

This moving, well-drawn story of sin and redemption in a fading industry town may remind readers of Richard Russo.

Publishers Weekly

Maillard invests Jimmy with a narrative voice so easy on the ears, you could listen to it for far longer than the book's length. This hilarious, often sentimental novel is ultimately a joyous, foot-stomping celebration of the human spirit, all the more special because it is presented in the unlikely guise of Jimmy Koprowski stepping right along to a terrific polka groove.


Maillard makes the connections seamless, and his prose is often as buoyant as the polka music he describes.

New York Times

About the Author

Keith Maillard

Posted by Kendra on December 6, 2014
Keith Maillard photo

Keith Maillard

Keith Maillard is the author of nine novels and one book of poetry. His novel Motet won the B.C. Book Prize for Fiction; Hazard Zones was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Literary Prize; and his 1999 novel, Gloria, was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award.