Historical fiction
Literary novel
Wiesław Helak
Towards the Seret

The Chronicler of a Vanishing World

The evening was approaching and the lights in the windows of the tenement houses by the market square were going out even though the blackout orders had already been lifted; yet people got used to covering their windows tightly during the occupation in fear of enemy soldiers shooting them at night. And dusk fell instantly, except for the white pages glimmering here and there on the pavement, the new mobilisation leaflets dropped from the Soviet crop dusters yesterday, even though the war had already ended, and they seemed unnecessary. Now the wind was blowing them from place to place while no one bothered to read or to sweep them.

“It’s time,” Marion said.

She put on her little grey hat that Janio had bought many years ago in Lwów for their honeymoon trip to Italy, the same hat she wore every year when they renewed their vows in front of the altar. Yet, after the Soviets had come, she would never take her purse or gloves with her, also taking off her gold wedding band and ring so that the comrades would not rob them. She looked at her husband anxiously, as if urging him to hurry up, because it seemed to her that it was the safest time, a dead period of fewer patrols before the curfew, still in place even with the Germans gone a long time ago. He touched her arm gently – she needed more and more affection – also taking off his wedding band and taking his father’s gold watch from his pocket to place it on the table next to her valuables. They were ready to leave – they both made the sign of the cross. She gave Janio one more look of trust, like a wounded partridge in need of help, completely surrendered to her guardian. And she asked without words if he would lead her to their destination on this special day for them.

He opened the door to check for strangers hiding nearby, a habit developed after they had been driven out of their manor and forced to live in the city. He always went out first now, to protect Marion from everything unpleasant, sudden or even sad – the years of war and occupation had weakened her greatly – first, their flight from the Bolsheviks approaching the Seret river area, their family seat that was to be their refuge forever, then the loss of another home at a time when life in peace looked like a real possibility at the end of war, and finally, the fear that even their current apartment was also under threat due to the many informers eager to serve the new authorities for a bottle of vodka. They both knew that the communist decree forbade the landowners to stay near the estates taken away from them, so they could be kicked out even from their present place at any moment.

It was already dark when they reached the street, its lamps turned on here and there to cast faint circles of light through which late passers-by flitted occasionally. Janio tightened his grip on Marion’s arm and led her straight across the market square to reach as quickly as possible the darkness of the secret passages between the backyards that offered more safety since the patrols avoided them. They were already entering the street with the outline of the collegiate church visible against the ink-blue sky, when suddenly several soldiers appeared around the corner. At the last moment, Janio stepped back instinctively and hugged his wife as if to shield her from danger with his body. He recognised them from afar by their faded jackets and papasha guns.

Excerpt translated by Mirek Lalas

Historical fiction
Literary novel
Wiesław Helak
Towards the Seret

The Chronicler of a Vanishing World

Publisher: Arcana, Kraków 2021
Translation rights: Arcana, arcana@poczta.internetdsl.pl

Wiesław Helak is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding Polish historical writers, who, in addition to other prizes, has received the Józef Mackiewicz Literary Award for his work. Towards the Seret is a continuation of Helak’s earlier novels On the River Zbruch and Mount Tabor, describing the world of Polish gentry, a world that no longer exists. Mount Tabor covers the period of 1926–1945. While portraying Poland remains the subject of Helak’s latest novel, his focus shifts to the turbulent post-war era. He pits his protagonists against the Polish People’s Republic (1945–1989), a world of repression, but also of heroic attitudes, armed struggle and a stubborn opposition to the new communist reality. Helak’s two latest books feature Janio as their protagonist. The most recent novel also follows the lives of Janio’s two brothers – a high-ranking party official, and a tradesman with a passion for the automotive industry. The symbolic reconciliation of the brothers takes place at their mother’s grave. The post-war fate of the Polish gentry is, in Helak’s words, a completely forgotten chapter. It was a time of repression, social marginalisation, dashed hopes, and of seeking solace in the Catholic Church. But it was also a time for passing to the next generations the principles of honesty, honour, and the ability to cope in the most difficult, seemingly hopeless situations. The theme of music plays an important role in the novel Towards the Seret. For the story’s protagonist, music is more than an escape from reality – it is part, in both Bach and Chopin, of the thread connecting people with God.

Helak’s novel also refers to a number of Europe’s builders: Plato, St. Augustine, Cyril, John of Damascus, Veit Stoss, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and St. Francis. They constitute a foundation on which we can and should build, and from which we can and should draw faith and hope.

Wacław Holewiński

Translated by Mirek Lalas

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

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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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