Konwicki returns to his nostalgic pre-WWII Lithuanian countryside (here, 19th century-even) to envision the life of his independent but world-wearying 30-year-olf grandmother, in fitting 19th-century romantic mode. On the surface, a pretty simple story, but harrowing 20th century experience haunts every page, from the phantoms of the holocaust haunting the woods, to Stalin's forebear as a inquisitional police chief, to the potential repercussions of Konwicki's own imagined lineage. He claims, if his heavy narratorial presence is to be believed, not to have any idea who his actual grandfather on that side may have been, and takes the opportunities presented in this uncertainty to reflect on the the arbitrary selection of the terrible events of his own lifetime. As well as to comment ironically on Poland's rather poor track record on respecting such issues post-war. Equally present in the story is the fallout of two unsuccessful Polish uprisings against Russian rule, the latter leaving them as a kind of police state, and the heroine bereft of her first and possibly last great love. Ironic and subversive intentions in writing about Russian rule in Poland are obvious in light of Konwicki's Warsaw Pact present, but of course, he's criticizing the Tzar here, it's completely different.
None of this historical baggage and contemporary commentary, however, removes the story entirely from the its pleasant, at times haunting, 19th-century-romantic storytelling flow — intriguing cast, familial gothic intrigues, rumors in the woods and all. Of course, the period and style lead to some hopefully intentionally dated particulars — we're looking at an era, and overriding Catholicism, that denies the heroine full agency in her romantic course. It falls to men to sweep ladies off their feet, perhaps quasi-unwillingly. Nonetheless the characters carry even this off pretty well. A shame then that this, in the late 1980s, seems to have been the final novel of the still-living Konwicki, as he declares in these very pages.
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