Classic
Literary novel
Józef Mackiewicz
The Colonel Myasoedov Affair

War prose by one of the most outstanding Polish writers of the 20th century

He was brought here by the despair of a weak man, despair as ordinary as this entire setting. Rumours had also reached him, and he had also guessed, through whose agency he was to be moved from Dzwinsk to “a more remote place”. He refused the offer and left the job. Now he wanted simultaneously to take revenge and offer forgiveness; to kill and to fall at her feet; to impress and humiliate; he wanted to seem ruthless and to howl, to plead for mercy. He had thought this out long ago; several months, almost a year had passed, and he was still racked by inner contradictions, and perhaps this, rather than the cold, is why he was momentarily trembling as in a fever. And then, suddenly, he heard the distant clip-clopping of a horse-drawn cab. He stopped, and, in the whirl of thoughts, there was no definite thought. Does the increasingly distinct clatter of a horse’s hoofs against the frozen cobbles herald an imminent death? Ah, anything, anything is possible in this world and in the other world.

There was just one lantern, fifty steps away, at the junction of two mews. But he has not planned to escape that way, but here, into the abyss of an unpaved road, still full of potholes, a road in the making, barely marked out, unlit of course. So he had a concrete plan after all? Perhaps…

The cab stopped in front of an invisible gate. Tamara, who had got out, was groping for money, holding her purse close to the cab’s lantern. So she was alone. She was standing with her back to him. He then began to walk towards her out of the darkness. She and the cabman simultaneously turned their heads when they heard unexpected steps. He was now so close that she could probably discern his face. He still did not know what he would do or say. Having recognised him, she turned again to look into the purse and sighed with unconcealed disgust: “Ah!… God…”

At this very second fate swept all his hopes away as wind sweeps autumnal leaves. He cried hoarse words, not those which he had prepared:

“For the wrong you’ve done me!…” He shot once, then again! He aimed at her without seeing. And he immediately started to run into the pitch-black passage of the unpaved road. He did not even hear the echo of his shots which had to have resounded loudly in the stillness of the night. Only after he had run a few dozen steps did he hear the cabman shouting:

“Hooold!” And the clangour of the hoofs of the frightened horse. And then the cabman again: “Tprr!”

A dog barked furiously in the neighbourhood. He did not hear her voice. He tore the cap from his head for some reason and, holding it in his left hand, and the revolver in his right, he was running flat out. A husky croak was coming from his throat. Nobody was pursuing him. Suddenly… Yes, certainly. He stopped, holding his breath… The distant, agitated voice of a man, probably the cabman, and in the intervals between this and the barking of the dog… the clear, but distinct, laughter of a woman, trembling in a nervous cascade! Yes, it was Tamara laughing.

So, sometimes things end in this way. He knew that the minus sign can appear in any calculation. He forgot that zero can also occur… The sudden awareness of a defeat, of a defeat including his own nothingness, tore every wish out of his soul. He put the cap on his head and the revolver into his coat pocket and trudged along, stumbling in the darkness, knowing that nobody would pursue him because he had already been crushed. He heard his own words in his head: “For the wrong you’ve done me,” and he thought that a housemaid who had been fired might have said these… He had abased himself, wounding his own self-respect. Only Tamara’s laughter was left to him… Should not boundless humility be the last recourse for such people?

Tamara, when the first shock had passed and the cabman’s confused cries had come to an end, took out the forty kopeks which had been agreed for the ride.

“For all this fright, Miss!” the cabman reproached her. So she added another twenty kopeks. “God be with you. And let Him guard you from such madmen. Just think… He could have killed…” He made a clicking sound to the horse and began to reverse slowly along the narrow street, pleased with the tip.

Excerpt translated by Nina Karsov

Classic
Literary novel
Józef Mackiewicz
The Colonel Myasoedov Affair

War prose by one of the most outstanding Polish writers of the 20th century

Publisher: Wydawnictwo Kontra, London 2022
Translation rights: Elkost International Literary Agency, klimin@gmail.com
Foreign language translations: The book has been translated into German, Spanish, French and Hungarian.

The Colonel Myasoedov Affair (London, 1962) is a monumental panorama of Russian society in the period preceding the outbreak of World War I and in its early duration. At the same time it is a novel of the fall of tsarist Russia, of the destructive influence of history on the individual, and the helplessness of ordinary people in the face of modern politics, which is unpredictable and omnipresent, because it “knocks at thousands of doors and windows”. This pertains especially to the twentieth century, in which “left over historical matters at the level of rulers and politics later spread like circles on the water” and “reach the private lives of all particular people”. An  example is the  eponymous Colonel Sergei Myasoedov, a Russian military policeman, who was hung in 1915 as an alleged German spy. Mackiewicz begins the novel with a matter-of-fact news item on the topic, after which in retrospect, starting from 1903, he shows the possible reasons for the judicial murder of Myasoedov. Called the Russian Dreyfus, unlike his French counterpart he was not saved, because public opinion – which “became the ruling power” – was against him. In this manner the novel becomes an excellent literary analysis of the mechanism of how a destructive smear campaign is conducted against an ordinary individual by means of gossip, intrigues and the press, but also of the dramas which incidental victims are forced to participate in through modern, dehumanised politics. An example of the latter is the wife of Myasoedov, Klara, whose story ends with a devastating portrayal of the bombing of Dresden by the Allies in 1945, another symbol of the ruthlessness of the era against an individual life. In Mackiewicz’s novel fictional characters are placed alongside historical figures, while literary descriptions of nature, battles or banquets clash with anonymous documents and press extracts. The work is a unique portrait of the tragedy of an ordinary person crushed by politics and also a story of the birth of the new, worse world of the twentieth century.

Maciej Urbanowski

Translated by Christopher Garbowski

Selected samples

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Urszula Honek
Honek
Radek Rak
Agla
Mariusz Staniszewski
Staniszewski_Kartel
Paweł Rzewuski
Adriana Szymańska
Kazimierz Orłoś
Orlos
Rafał Wojasiński
Tefil
Antonina Grzegorzewska
Grzegorzewska_drama
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Sprawa
Tobiasz Piątkowski, Marek Oleksicki
Piatkowski_Oleksicki_Ekspozytura
Daniel Odija
Bronisław Wildstein
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Droga
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Bunt-rojstow
Witold Szabłowski
Szablowski_Rosja-od-kuchni
Andrzej Muszyński
Muszynski_Dom-ojcow
Wiesław Helak
Helak
Bartosz Jastrzębski
Jastrzebski_Dies-irae
Dariusz Sośnicki
Sośnicki_Po-domu
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski_chodz
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_SO
אנדז'יי ספקובסקי
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jakub Małecki
Aleksandra Lipczak
Jacek Dukaj
Wit Szostak
Bartosz Biedrzycki
Zyta Rudzka
Maciej Płaza
Wojciech Chmielewski
Paweł Huelle
Przemysław "Trust" Truściński
Angelika Kuźniak
Wojciech Kudyba
Michał Protasiuk
Stanisław Rembek
Rembek
Krzysztof Karasek
Elżbieta Isakiewicz
Artur Daniel Liskowacki
Jarosław Jakubowski
Zbigniew Stawrowski
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Anna Piwkowska
Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Jerzy Szymik
Waldemar Bawołek
Julia Fiedorczuk
Jakub Szamałek
Witold Szabłowski
Jacek Dukaj
Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Paweł Piechnik
Andrzej Strumiłło

69

Marta Kwaśnicka
Piotr Mitzner
Paweł Sołtys
Wacław Holewiński
Anna Potyra
Wiesław Helak
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marek Stokowski
Stokowski
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
HKD
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_Horyzont
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski
Małgorzata Rejmer
Rejmer
Rafał Wojasiński
Olanda
Wojciech Kudyba
Kudyba
Włodzimierz Bolecki
Bolecki
Jerzy Liebert
Liebert
Wojciech Zembaty
Zembaty
Wojciech Chmielarz
Chmielarz
Bogdan Musiał
Musiał
Joanna Siedlecka
Siedlecka
Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski
Drozdowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Marek Bieńczyk
Bienczyk
Leszek Elektorowicz
Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
Sinkowski
Szymon Babuchowski
Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Majewski
Weronika Murek
Murek
Agnieszka Świętek
Swietek
Stanisław Szukalski
Barbara Klicka
Klicka
Anna Kamińska

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”

Wojciech Chmielarz

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”

Anna Kańtoch

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”

Marek Krajewski

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”

Ks. Tomasz Stępień

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”

Jakub Małecki
Szczepan Twardoch
Wiesław Helak
Maria Wilczek-Krupa
Anna Kańtoch
Rafał Kosik
Paweł Sołtys
Dorota Masłowska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Martyna Bunda
Olga Tokarczuk
Various authors
Mariola Kruszewska
Waldemar Bawołek
Marek Oleksicki, Tobiasz Piątkowski
Wojciech Tomczyk
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar
Ks. Robert Skrzypczak
Bronisław Wildstein
Anna Bikont
Magdalena Grzebałkowska
Wojciech Orliński
Klementyna Suchanow
Andrzej Franaszek
Natalia Budzyńska
Marian Sworzeń
Aleksandra Wójcik, Maciej Zdziarski
Józef Łobodowski

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”

Piotr Zaremba
Wacław Holewiński
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