The Big Moose Prize Winner

The Tide King

Publication Date: May 2013


Stanley Polensky and Calvin Johnson serve in Germany during World War II. Calvin, near death after being shelled, is given a bewitched herb by Stanley but then left for dead. Each soldier returns from the war and years pass. Calvin, discovering that he cannot age and cannot die, searches for Stanley to get answers.

Michalski’s The Tide King is the story of burnette saxifrage, an herb rumored in Polish folklore to provide those who eat it with immortality, and its effects on three generations of a Polish family over two continents beginning in 19th-century Poland and ending in 1976 America.

But it is also the story of young men’s sacrifice during great wars, of a young child’s experiences during the holocaust and being a war orphan, of the curiosities of the American century, such as 1950s country music and smoke jumpers in the Montana mountains and 1970s New York. Just as Viking king Cnut, who was rumored to be so powerful that he controlled the tides at his feet, discovered “how empty and worthless is the power of kings$$ Calvin Johnson and others cursed by the herb find in The Tide King that the power of youth and immortality is an empty gift, for they will continually witness the death of their families, lovers, dreams, and ideals.


“Jen Michalski has written a prodigiously entertaining novel, whose magical-realistic conceit keeps pushing this unstoppable story to ever more audacious heights.”
-Madison Smartt Bell, “The Tide King is a profoundly compassionate novel about what it means to be a mortal being – or maybe worse to be an immortal one. Part folk tale, part World War II buddy story, part exploration of myriad kinds of love, this is an absolute stunner of a book. Jen Michalski is a writer whose talent seems limitless. The only consolation to finishing these pages is the thought of what more will surely follow.”

-Robin Black

The Tide King, the realm of children’s fairy tales-witches, children fending for themselves, and mysterious herbs that bequeath eternal life-collides with the real, adult world of wars, unrequited love, and the daily grind of existence. When a tale like this is in the hands of a gifted storyteller such as Jen Michalski, you know better than to expect a simple, happy-ever-after ending. Instead, expect to read late into the night, as I did, impatient to find out what happens to her memorable characters.”

-Susi Wyss

The Tide King sweeps from 19th-century Poland to 20th-century America with intimate details and big ideas. It will be hard to forget this beautifully written epic tale.”

-Jessica Anya Blau

“The Tide King is a boldly conceived novel about immortality, but it doesn’t read as fantasy. There’s room here for lovers of realism, too. These characters hurt the way all of us mortals do. Jen Michalski has a great ability to describe magical events in plain, relatable language, and to use her exciting premise as a lens through which to explore both the sweep of history and the personal sadness of time passing.”

-Justin Kramon

About the Author

Jen Michalski

Jen Michalski is the author of three novels, three short story collections, and a couplet of novellas. Her last novel, You'll Be Fine, was a 2021 Buzzfeed "Best Small Press Book," a 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist, and was selected as one of the "Best Books We Read This Year" by the Independent Press Review. Her latest collection of short stories, The Company of Strangers, is available January 10, 2023 from Braddock Avenue Books. She's the editor of the weekly online literary weekly jmww and currently lives in Southern California, although she will always be a Baltimore girl by heart. Visit her at

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