Born and raised in the Russian-occupied part of Poland, he started both conspiring and writing in Boarding School (under Nom De Plume Jerzy Łużyc). Studied law in Kraków, where he met his future wife. Went on to fight for Poland.
Also fought in Polish-Soviet War.
This done, he settled in Warsaw as a journalist, writer, publisher and (as of 1919) father, leaving every once in a while to write about far-away places. Or not so far away - Na tropach Smętka translation described lands just behind the border but unavailable due to Prussian bureaucracy.
When World War II came, he got drafted, but missed his division and finally landed in Romania, where he made interviews with all the interesting people, before he was evacuated by the British Army. Afterwards he joined general Anders as the war correspondent.
After the war he lived in London, then in the USA, finally returning to Poland, or at least to the Polish lands, in 1958. Being staunchingly anti-establishment (anti-censorship, specifically) he stood before a Kangaroo Court, but the communists chickened out and left him alone in the end, since he became a bit of an Icon of Rebellion.
Having traveled half the world, endured three major wars and one-upped the government, Melchior Wańkowicz died of cancer in 1974.
His best known works are:
- Szczenięce lata - autobiographical (his own childhood)
- Na tropach Smętka - autobiographical (a trip with his daughter to Mazury)
- Bitwa o Monte Cassino - three volumes on battle of Monte Cassino
- Wrzesień żagwiący - on the September 1939, published in English as Scorching September
- Klub trzeciego miejsca
- Ziele na kraterze - autobiographical (his daughters' childhood and family life in The Roaring '20s, as well as their war-time experiences)
- Droga do Urzędowa
- Atlantyk Pacyfik - autobiographical (a road trip from New York to California, along with the wife)
- Karafka La Fontainea, two volumes, the second published posthumously
Tropes that apply to Melchior Wańkowicz:
- Banned in China: Na tropach Smętka was banned in Germany as "anti-german propaganda". So was the author.
- Boarding School: Both himself and his daughter Marta.
- Book-Ends: Ziele na kraterze starts with Krystyna's birth and ends, 26 years later, with Marta's letter telling Mom and Dad about her new baby - Anna Krystyna.
- Censorship Tropes: Had trouble with them, which never stopped him.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Ziele na kraterze starts a little sad, then gets hilarious (with one or two Mood Whiplash moments) but from summer 1938 onwards laughter dies. Such is life.
- Correction Bait: Invoked in Na tropach Smętka, when he and Marta start assembling their boat in the most hilariously inept way they can - specifically to get the boys loitering around the harbour to do it for them. Works like a charm.
- Dad the Veteran
- During the War: Three different wars.
- Fish out of Water: Living in the US didn't agree with Wańkowicz, which is why he decided to return.
- Happily Married: Throughout several wars.
- Hands-Off Parenting: See Ziele na kraterze. Rule one - "No Forbidden Fruit".
- He Also Did: Advertisement in the thirties, specifically came up with the most famous (and most parodied) ad in Polish language "Cukier krzepi" translation
- In the Blood: Father sent to Siberia, daughter killed in the Uprising. Himself an untiring worker for Polish independence. Wańkowicz family had Occupiers Out of Our Country in their blood.
- Impoverished Patrician
- Intrepid Reporter: Going everywhere, including under enemy fire, to get as accurate an account as possible. The result: Bitwa o Monte Cassino (Battle for Monte Cassino), all the three tomes of it.
- Let Her Grow Up, Dear: Mild, but Marta's prospective boyfriend does get outwitted away.
- The Last DJ: His later years under the Communits rule. Not the only writer who wouldn't be cowed, but certainly a prominent one.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Na tropach Smętka, or a father and daughter rowing trip to Mazury. Combined with a mission to show the world how Polish people are being opressed there.
- Mama Bear: Mr. Wańkowicz's wife, Zofia, most of the time a sweet, Doting Parent. But when German soldiers come to shove, she shows her Nerves of Steel.
- The Nicknamer: In the autobiographical books everyone gets a cute nickname or two.
- Non-Fiction: What he (mostly) wrote.
- Parental Abandonment: Both parents died when he was very little.
- Perfectly Cromulent Word: Coined along with his daughters for everyday use - "kuwaka" means anything you need it to mean at the moment.
- Troll: Especially as a parent.
- Unreliable Narrator: Because sometimes he had no means of verifyng other peoples' accounts, and other people were being economical with the truth.
- Wacky Parent, Serious Child: Somewhat, especially with the introverted Krystyna.
- Wartime Wedding: World War I for his own, World War II for his daughter's.
- Voice of the Resistance: Well, more of a printing press of the resistance. In The Roaring '20s he owned an independent publishing company.