Captivating short story collection that reads like a novel
Marie waited for her husband; she couldn’t leave without him, not now. She felt as though somebody had thrown her, in the middle of the day, down a chasm from
which she couldn’t climb out of on her own. She spent weeks in fear, just looking out for him. She didn’t let the children leave the house, even during the day. She carried a small linen bag under her blouse, resting on her breast, containing money and items of jewellery the Russians hadn’t found, ready to flee into the fo- rest at any moment. She barely slept. She couldn’t eat and she was tormented by nausea – and not just in the morning. She cried into her pillow and beat her fists against her belly. Every evening she fervently prayed for a miracle. And one day it occurred. August returned, haggard, distressed by news about the new world order. Several other farmers also returned from shifting the contents of a looted factory onto Soviet trucks. But not all her prayers were answered.
“We have to leave, dad,” he explained mildly, chewing some bread. “We can’t stay here. They’re clearing out whole villages, whole towns. They’re taking every- thing. The Russkies will be back, they’ll be back and won’t be shifted for a long time. They’re saying this’ll be Poland. We have to get out, while there’s still time. We must take what we can and hide the rest till we’re back. They’re setting up camps for people like us, they’ll help us.”
“You don’t understand anything, dad. We’ve lost the war. Nothing will change now, not for the moment at least. The time has come for accounts to be settled. Dad, I heard in town… Heini’s dead. Heini, who wo- uld never hurt a fly, killed himself. You didn’t like him much, did you? They raped his daughter, she wasn’t even fifteen, you remember her, and his wife… They were screaming, but no one helped them. Then they killed them, throttled them. They say that’s how the new authorities will be running things. He was left all alone. Hanged himself with his belt. And where was it? Outside the town hall.”
“A coward! Just like you!” Günter spat into August’s face. “That’s enough of your idle talk. If you want to leave your fatherland then go, you coward. Take your family and your whining wife and head for the hills, but without me. I’m not giving up this house or this land. It’s mine, I built it with my own hands. I’ll watch over it. I won’t let it go to waste! This lot will blow over. You and the rest will be back. I’ll watch over it. Some- body has to.”
“You’ll die. They’ll kill you and burn the house down.” “I built it myself, every brick, every beam… I planted trees. I’d sooner burn it down with these hands than let them get their filthy mitts on it. Over my dead body, over my dead body!”
“Out of my sight! Pack up what’s yours and go!” Gün- ter struck his cane so hard on the wooden floor he made a dent in it. He went out into the farmyard rud- dy with anger. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his thumping heart. He thought about his father and his father’s father, about all the generations that had built houses, barns, planted apple trees, currants, ja- smine shrubs, sown winter wheat and grass. He cares- sed the fence tenderly, as though wanting to assure it that it was in good hands.
When August and his wife and children set off, pushing their heavily laden handcart, Günter didn’t go onto the doorstep. Only when their shapes began to recede into the distance did he hobble to the door, touched by a sudden thought, open it and shout his son’s name out several times. He called him back with a vigorous wave of his cane. He hugged August with all his strength and kissed him on the forehead upon which he made the sign of the cross.
Excerpt translated by David French
Captivating short story collection that reads like a novel
The collective heroes of Mariola Kruszewska’s book are Polish repatriates, or rather exiles after the Second World War, forced to leave their homes and everything that was familiar to them and move into a foreign world, called – for whatever reason – the Recovered Territories. There are also some displaced Germans among the book’s characters, as their fate is also important to the author.
In the endless journey to the new homeland, a child is lost, someone else falls ill and will not be able to stand up again. And upon arrival, we read, ”They stumbled over rubble, lack of water, fear of thieves and the return of Germans. (…) They dismantled wartime barricades. They buried people. They buried animals. They buried history. They sowed new reality, ready to quit it at any moment and go back to their place”.
They did not know yet that there was no return to lost territories in the Eastern Borderlands, and in the new place everything seemed temporary, fragile, uncertain. The new reality will also bring new threats: on the part of the Soviet “liberators”, still throwing their weight around, and the allegedly native authorities, imposed by force. They will remain distrustful of it, but they will have to come to terms with it, just as they should deal with what is here and now. And they must lick the fresh wounds inflicted on them by history; first and foremost, the one whose face had well known features, namely of the Ukrainian neighbours from Volhynia.
Mariola Kruszewska’s book is a collection of stories. It consists of thirteen texts entitled, for example Appletree, Black Currants, Potatoes, Winter Crops, Sunflowers and Jasmine. While reading, however, we realise that it is one coherent story in which individual threads overlap, the characters enter into relationships with one another, sometimes we only move with them to another place, or go back or forward in time.
The author (b. 1965) used to be better known as a poet. Cherries Will Grow Wild, awarded in the Bolesław Fac Literary Contest of the City of Gdansk, indicates that she has even more to say in prose.
Krzysztof Masłoń, translated by Katarzyna Popowicz
She climbed her first peaks in a headscarf at a time when women in the mountains were treated by climbers as an additional backpack. It was with her that female alpinism began! She gained recognition in a spectacular way. The path was considered a crossing for madmen. Especially since the tragic accident in 1929, preserved … Continue reading “Halina”
First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”
A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”
The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”
This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”
The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”