A planned political assassination is the central subject of this delightful 1997 novel, the third to reach English translation from its award-winning, highly popular Polish author (The Mighty Angel, 2009, etc.).
It begins with a killer first sentence (no giveaway here) announcing the master plan concocted by two of Pilch’s three protagonists: to travel from their tiny village (Wisla) to Warsaw and murder Worker’s (i.e., Communist ) Party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. The conspirators are the father of teenaged narrator Jerzyk, a retired postal administrator, and his ebullient comrade Mr. Traba, a defrocked clergyman, devout boozehound and would-be patriot and liberator. In fact, Mr. T. is a man of talk—and wonderful, self-important, loony palaver his emotional harangues are, echoing the accents of Tristram Shandy’s Uncle Toby (as European critics have noted), with cacophonous grace notes reminiscent of Voltaire and Rabelais. Meanwhile, we’re made privy to the secret thoughts of reluctant fellow anarchist Jerzyk, who’s more interested in lusting after a pair of lissome upstairs boarders, while simultaneously laboring to dream chastely of the older girl he declares “the angel of my first love,” and enduring female reproofs which warn him that “Amorousness combined with erotic illiteracy is a dangerous combination.” Mr. T.’s sinister plot (which involves the use of a Chinese crossbow) occasions spirited debate among such blissfully eccentric neighbors as a loquacious sexton who admires the interminable historical novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz and a feisty pastor who considers the question whether Catholics or Protestants make the best assassins. All is eventually rationalized as needed, Jerzyk’s itches remain mostly unscratched, and The World Goes On.
If laughter actually is the best medicine, fortunate readers of this wonderful novel will surely enjoy perfect health for the rest of their days.