Book Reviews

Book Review: Mój Szef

Title: Mój Szef
Author: Melissa Darwood
Genre: Romance

What It’s About: Maria Barbara, who finished her Master’s in Financing and Banking, got her job at a financial/investment firm in Poland after passing a test required by HR and her boss. On her first day at the office, she signs the paperwork and finds out that her boss, for whom she will be the right hand, is distant and cold. She meets some new employees at the coffee machine, and from the ladies, she finds out that the women find her boss attractive, and that the company has a health-first policy, encouraging people to quit smoking and doing any other unhealthy habits.

She ends up working twelve-hour days, and in one of the days where her boss, Jan Engler, actually talks to her, he tells her to stop adding emoticons to her emails as he doesn’t care to read reports where there are smiley-faces everywhere. She re-writes her email, and goes out for a smoke, around the building, where she finds her usual friends, and this time, she meets a new guy, Karol, a 28 year old who enjoys PlayStation and going clubbing on the weekend. They make plans for a date that night, and have casual sex. After that, they meet up twice a week for dinner, a movie and sex.

Maria graduate college with a master’s degree four years ago, but she is kicking herself in the butt for choosing that major, because while she is really damn good at what she does, she does not love it. Still, she needs the money to pay her bills, and more importantly to have savings so that she can start her own business of restoring antique furniture. After finishing up a report and not having anything to do, Maria takes a break and researches through a website, where she find a beautiful chair. She wants to go pick it up but Jan and the office overhears her on the phone. She lies to him saying that he mom is sick, but he doesn’t let her go, telling her that she has an hour to put together a report for a meeting that he has with a company. So upset with him and at the prospect of losing the chair, Maria goes to the restroom and tries to call her friends to see if anyone can pick it up. Unfortunately, all three of her closest friends are either unavailable or otherwise undisposed. She remembers then that she has a boyfriend, and calls Karol to ask him. She overhears a girl giggling and gets suspicious, but he tells her that it’s the wife of a coworker, and that he’s unable to get the chair for her.

When she gets out of her stall, she comes face to face with Jan, and finds out that she had entered the wrong restroom in the office, and immediately gets scared because she’s not sure if Jan overheard all of the horrible things that she had said to her friends about him. Aside from asking her what she is doing in the men’s room, Jan tells her that she has 30 minutes to get the documents for him. Precisely 30 minutes later, he finds her printing the documents in red because the black toner had run out, and mentions that she could have used a different printer but that there’s no time to print a new one–she will have to read the documents to him in the car. During their drive, she tells him that the treasury is incorrect in going after the company because the company’s revenue is less than 50 million Zlotych, which is the threshold needed. Jan looks at her in shock and admonishes her that she cannot do math of those large amounts on a cellphone calculator on her way down in the elevator; that the client deserves respect and that these types of things need excel spreadsheets. Maria tells him that she never used a calculator, it’s all in her head, and challenges him to give her large numbered math problems, stating that if she is correct, she’ll get a prize. Jan stares at her for a while before he takes her up on the challenge, giving her numbers in the hundred of thousands, millions and billions. She does the math with ease, and wins the challenge. Jan calls the client, cancels the meeting, telling them to re-do the math, and then drops Maria home.

That is where she finds the piece of furniture she had wanted earlier. Apparently, a man had dropped it off at her neighbor’s earlier, and she takes it back to her apartment, where she proceeds to work on it all night. The next day, she’s running late to work, not realizing that her face is a mess, until Jan mentions it. She uses the restroom to clean up, and then calls Karol, thinking that he was the one that got it for her. They go to a private storage room that only Karol has access to, with the intent that she would thank him with some oral, but she struggles to do it because of the way that he smells, and luckily for her, their tryst gets interrupted by Jan calling her. After the incident in the car, instead of giving Maria an easier time, he keeps her busy with more work, more meetings and as a result she has to work late hours. This in turn makes it difficult to see Karol, who got fired for their tryst in the supply room, as the company is against fraternization.

Maria visits her parents one weekend and her mom gives her a lecture that people don’t always do what they love for work; that sometimes they have to do what has to be done–work, children, family, chores, and only once that is done during the day, maybe they will find a moment to do things that they enjoy. Not wanting to listen to any more lectures from her mother, Maria goes home, and en route, she gets a call from an unknown number. Guilting herself into thinking that it is her mom and maybe something happened to her, she picks up, finding Jan’s voice on the other side. She tries to lie to him that she is eating dinner with her parents, only to find out that he is waiting at the door of her building. Jan tells her to pack her bags and get ready for a cocktail party, and asks if he can use her work laptop, so she lets him into her house. He is a bit shocked by the plastic covering the floor, and wonders if she is repainting, but she explains that she refurbishes furniture and since she doesn’t have a workshop for now, she is doing it out of her home. While Jan works, Maria gets dressed into a bikini, and when she re-enters her living room, they get into an argument, where she tells him that she is not required to go anywhere, that it is the weekend and she won’t let him change her plans for her. Before Jan responds, Maria runs out, afraid of being fired, and goes to meet up with her friends.

At the restaurant, her gay friend, Artur, calls Jan from his personal number, trying to proposition him to find out if Jan is gay. Jan’s only response to Artur’s explanation is to tell him to tell Maria to bring a box at 7 am on Monday for her stuff. Obviously sad at getting fired, Maria parties it off at the club with her friends, where she gets drunk, and drunk texts Jan a picture of her boobs intended for Karol. She freaks out when she realizes what happened, and gets worried that he will think that she’s trying to gain sexual favors so he won’t fire her. Maria decides to deal with the consequences later, and instead goes to visit Karol, but finds that his place is a pigsty with cockroaches, which sobers her up. He doesn’t want to clean, so she just leaves while he continues to play his video games.

That night, from all of the alcohol, Mary has a strange dream involving Jan telling her naughty things because she is topless at work and as a result she drops her mug. Jan starts cleaning it up, but it is all he does, and won’t even respond to her commands or comments. She wakes up and decides to put up her chair for a listing, getting a response fairly quickly from a gentleman saying that he’ll pick it up today in cash. Tadeo comes by, and when he sees what she did with the chair that he delivered to her, he tells her that it is amazing, claiming that as soon as he has some money saved up, he will come to her to renovate his grandfather’s dresser. They talk about her boss, and he tells her that sometimes people are not who they seem, revealing that he ended up in jail for messing up the man that raped his sister. It was his brother that got him a job at a friend’s, picking up and doing errands for the friend, and he struggled with the demands of the boss. Tadeo tells her that sometimes people surprise you once you get to know them, because even though his boss was demanding he found that the man was a good person after working for him for quite a while.

Maria arrives at work in the morning before 6 am, hoping to avoid the shame of being kicked out of work. She packs her box and tries to drop her laptop off at Jan’s office, only to find a luggage that she needs to right. He shows up while she’s straightening out the luggage, and asks her what she is doing. Turns out that her assumption that she was getting fired was just that–an assumption–he had asked her to bring boxes so that she can move desks to an office where the air conditioning and heating won’t bother her, which was part of their deal when she won the math challenge. Over the course of the next several months, Maria’s relationship with Jan gets better, but it’s still hard for her to connect with him despite his brusque manners, and she continues to work late nights. Tadeo keeps coming to buy all of her furniture, investing a lot of money into her work. That is how he meets Maria’s friend, Nina, and they fall in love. Maria’s other friend, Tosia, who is a psychologist, gives birth to their son and as any new mother, she falls in love with him.

On Christmas Eve, Maria stays late at work because of a report, and while grabbing coffee, she talks to Jan, forgetting to add sugar. She turns back and then runs into Jan, spilling the hot coffee on both of them. He takes care of her burn, putting on the cream, and later on, she sits in her office wearing a coat because her shirt is still wet. She starts crying because she does not feel supported by her parents and does not want to go over to their house for Christmas Eve. When Jan comes into the office, she takes it out on him, telling him that he needs to be more empathetic, and more feeling. As a result, he kisses her, and after a brief confusion, in which he thinks that he misread the situation, he agrees to be fired for crossing the company’s rules, she kisses him back. This time, they take it further and end up having sex in her office, by the window. They go to clean up in the bathrooms, and then end up having sex again in the hallway. After cleaning up for the second time, they go downstairs for a smoke, and Jan snaps at the security officer to turn off the holiday music. Suddenly, Maria remembers that she was supposed to be at her parent’s for Christmas Eve dinner, and rushes to the elevators. They start going up to their floor, arguing because Jan tells Maria she needs to finish the report, when the elevator loses power.

There is not much that they can do, and after panicking, Maria sits next to him, where Jan reveals that he asked her to finish the report because he wanted her to spend more time with him. He then reveals that he hates Christmas music because that is when he found out his ex-wife cheated on him. He tells Maria that they couldn’t have children, and he didn’t think it was his fault, until he did get himself tested and found out on Christmas Eve that he wouldn’t be able to have children. When he came home, in a foul mood, he tried to act happy, until his ex-wife presented him with a gift of baby socks, revealing that she cheated on him with another man to get pregnant. Because of this, they got divorced. Maria and Jan have sex in the elevator, and then afterwards it turns on. They make it to their floor, and start packing up their stuff to leave. Maria receives a call from her dad that her mom had a heart attack and is in the hospital. She goes to Jan to ask him to drive her, and instead he gifts her a very expensive watch, which she declines saying that she cannot accept it due to the price. He also cannot understand why Maria wants to see her mom if she doesn’t like her.

The two of them drive to the hospital in complete silence, and when they arrive, she sees her family walking out of the hospital, so she starts running towards her mother. Unfortunately, she slips and loses control, but Jan saves her from hurting herself. Maria speaks with her parents, and her brother tries to guilt her by saying that it’s her fault that her mom got a heart attack. They start arguing, and no one wants to tell her what exactly is going on, including the fact that no one called her to check in on her when she didn’t show up to dinner. Jan comes to her defense and tells them that she is one of the most intelligent, amazing women he’s known, and as a result leaves Maria’s family speechless. They are pulled out of their stupor when they realize that a nurse is calling after them because the mom forgot her doctor’s order/ prescription. Maria and her brother run for it, but because he is heavier, Maria reaches the nurse first to get the documents. As she suspected, her family is lying to her, which is proved by the document where she realizes that her mom had a stomach issue rather than a heart attack. She gets into an argument with her family after that, throwing the documents into her brothers face, about why they’re trying to guilt her into feeling bad, after which she stalks off.

Jan picks her up in his car, and they go to his home, where she takes in the way that the house is beautifully laid out. She wants to use the restroom, but finds herself in his office, where she discovers that not only he had purchased her chair, but also all of the different pieces of furniture that she had updated. Turns out that he had been the buyer behind all of her items, and he tells her to check her own bank account, where she finds a total of 42,192 zlotych deposited due to her overtime. He explains to her that after their discussion in her home the day she ran out on him, he checked her computer and found the business plan and ideas. After he had looked at everything, he realized that it was a sound business plan and wanted her to go after it, so he hatched a plan where she would work extra hours, which would give her the money that she wanted and they could spend time together. Since the law in Poland is set up in such a way that overtime would have to be paid first in time-off, he chose to not allow her to take any time off, which resulted in the company having to pay her. He also was smart enough to realize that she would not take him up on his offers of helping or going out, so he sent his friend/worker to pick up the chair for the first time and then buying all of her subsequent furniture. Maria wants to kiss him, but Jan steps away, unsure of her actions.

After a night of sex, Maria wakes up at 5 am and finds Jan in his office, cleaning up and working on his watches/clocks, a hobby of his off of which he makes money. He tells her that he is busy, and he peppers him with questions about his days, but his answers make he realize that she has no place in his life. Instead, she leaves the house, grabs some McDonald’s for breakfast, and heads home, where she finds Jan waiting for her. They have a conversation in her apartment, which makes her realize that they had a misunderstanding earlier, and he asks her to always be honest with him. Jan wants her to tell him upfront what is bothering her or what she needs because otherwise it’s hard for him to follow between the lines, and then invites her to his Cabin. She agrees, and they end up having more time in the shower.

They drive in silence and Maria falls asleep. But when she wakes up, she realizes that she is falling in love with Jan, and tells him to stop. She starts smoking, and he grabs her cigarette pack, throws it out, and tells her that this is her last cigarette ever. They talk for a little longer, and then Mary asks for the keys to the car so that she can drive to the house. He doesn’t willingly give them up, but they reach a compromise. She drives the car at 200 kilometers an hour, which makes Jan nervous. When they arrive at the town of his Cabin, Maria parks the car on the side of the road and they have sex (again). Then they go to the store to buy groceries, and while Jan is reading all of the ingredients, putting things back or away, Maria purchases another pack of cigarettes.

When they arrive at the cabin, Jan starts separating the ham and cheese into packages for the next three days, and then starts to cook dinner, while Mary bakes a cake. When they finish eating, she takes a walk outside with the cake to cool it down, and calls her friend, Tosia, while she has a smoke. She tells Tosia everything that happened, and Tosia tells her to enjoy it and see what happens. Maria returns to the house then, and she is unable to find Jan anywhere, so she searches the house until she finds him in his office. He’s busy and focused, not even listening to her. When she ask what his plan for her spending the whole week with him was, he said that they were going to eat meals together and have sex. Maria doesn’t like it, and instead comes up with a compromise–every other day is his, and on his days he decides what they do, while on her days, she decides what to do. Jan agrees to it, and they return to the kitchen, where Jan eats some apple pie though he doesn’t like the apple and dough mixed together. Afterwards they have more bedroom fun, and then watch Mary’s favorite movie, Holiday, which Jan doesn’t like because of the many inconsistencies. He falls asleep during the movie.

The next morning, after breakfast, Jan gives Maria an option–either they can go skiing, or they can stay home and he works on watches. She decides skiing even though she doesn’t know how to ski, because she’s bored by the clocks. Once on the hills, it quickly becomes evident that she doesn’t know how to ski, especially since she cannot figure out how to stop sliding backwards. Jan has to save her, and as a result, he is angry, wanting to drive home to have dinner. Maria on the other hand wants to eat out, and there is a battle of the wills, until Jan relents with the caveat that the restaurant they find is quiet. After going through a few restaurants, they find one that is quiet, and Jan surmises that they must be bad if there are no clients. They sit and they order, but the waitress brings out Jan’s order wrong, and he starts to berate her. Maria fixes the matter, and they have a lovely dinner until a whole tour group comes in and start being noisy. Jan then loses his temper, and runs out of the restaurant, not giving Maria any explanation. She pays, and then finds Jan, who is now leaning against the wall, counting. He wants to be left alone, so Maria sits in the driver’s seat for a while before he shows up and tells her to drive home. Once they are home, he goes straight to bed, even though it is 4pm, and sleeps the whole day.

The next day, Maria gets an invitation from her friend Nina for a new year’s eve party, and goes to talk to Jan about it, who has not said anything about the incident from the day before. He tells her that he will not go, but won’t explain the reason why, and Maria finds that so infuriating that she packs up her stuff and leaves the cabin for her home. For the next two days, she sits around the house, moping, until on the third day, Tosia calls her, and Mary tells her everything that is going on with Jan. The more Tosia listens, the more she is convinced that Jan has Asperger’s syndrome, and it makes Maria feel bad. Tosia tells her that if she loves him, she will have to accept him as he is, not push him out of his comfort zone all at once, but take it day by day, and see how he adapts, if at all. Their conversation ends when Maria gets a text message from Jan asking her if she’s home. He comes up, and tells her everything, confirming that he has Asperger’s syndrome, and so it’s hard for him to understand the underlying motives, or understand what is wrong, and that he is very sensitive to loud noises and flashing sounds. He tells her about his experience with his ex-wife, Kamila, who was the one who actually got him tested for Asperger’s syndrome, yet at the same time, she demanded he changed himself. Maria realizes that she was doing the same thing, and when she voices that, Jan tells her that she did something different–she offered a compromise of days, which is something that Kamila had never done. They make up.

A year later, Maria has realized several truths about individuals with Asperger’s syndrome, including that they can understand human emotions, but they approach it with a different way, and gives examples. It is now New Year’s Eve, and Maria tells Jan that they have to go to the party that Tosia and her have been planing for a month. He tells her that no, and to call off the taxi, but doesn’t really give her a reason. Maria asks him what the matter is as they have been planning the party with him in mind, for a month, making sure that everyone will have their own bluetooth headphones so they can listen to music and that the light will be dimmed. Jan replies back that he’s been planning this for six months. He then says that it’s been 9,000 hours since they first kissed, and then proposes to her. Maria accepts.

My Verdict: I decided that I need to start reading more in Polish, but finding stories in Polish that hold my interest in the same way as the ones in English is hard to find. I figured that this book would be a good place to start as it is short, and fairly similar in premise to Fifty Shades of Grey. And to be honest, I couldn’t put it down!

What I particularly loved about this book was how it brought in the neurodiverse perspective into play. Perhaps it’s the genre of books that I read, but I have yet to find a book in English that brought in a supporting character that has autism or Asperger’s syndrome. So this was such an interesting twist to the story, and gave a completely different meaning to it–one that is about how easy it is to judge someone without really knowing who they are, and that we probably shouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions about people.

When Jan is introduced in the book, my first thought was that he is distant because of company policy. I wasn’t particularly a fan of how Maria speaks negatively about him, which is one thing that maybe ticked me off about the book, but at the same time, I do know that there are plenty of people who do make these kinds of comments, and so maybe this part is meant to be realistic about the way people assume things. In any case, I did think him distant, though I figured that it was something related to work policy and there was something more to his history. In Fifty Shades of Grey, that was a need for control because of childhood trauma, and I feel like the childhood trauma aspect of it has been overdone in all these romance stories. In any case, around the time that Maria goes to Jan’s house after the parking lot argument with her parents, and sees him working with the watches, the idea that Jan has Asperger’s syndrome came to mind. As a result, it was no surprise when it was that in fact the truth, and rather it gave this romance story a different feel. I feel a lot of Mary’s reactions are typical of people who are ignorant about the needs and actions of neurodiverse individuals, and so that is something that needs to be explained to them, and this book certainly does well in exploring that issue, though it shouldn’t be expected to provide answers into how people should deal with it as every person is different.

Who knew it would take a Polish book to find something involving neurodiverse individuals?

Overall, loved it; would recommend the book to anyone who wants to read it, though for now, you will have to read it in Polish. I do know that the author is looking for translators to get some of her books, including this one, translated into English…so maybe soon? Stay updated.

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