A WARSAW DIARY: 1978-1981 by Kazimierz Brandys
Kirkus Star

A WARSAW DIARY: 1978-1981

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The journal entries (condensed from two volumes) of a Warsaw literary man during the most tumultous phase of recent Polish history. Brandys, a popular Polish writer of serious intent who has published nine novels since 1946 (US, A Question of Reality, 1980), exemplifies the creative life. He speaks of writing for one reader, his wife Maria; he anguishes over the periods when the words will not come, and over the routine when they do; he has lunch every day at the Writers' Club and moves easily among his friends and acquaintances--all writers, filmmakers, intellectuals. But this is Poland: the filmmakers are the likes of Andrzej Wajda (who made a film of one of Brandys' novels, Samson); the intellectuals are people like Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik, two of the founders of KOR, a workers' support group made up of radical scholars and writers (some being held on treason charges). Brandys himself is a rank-and-file member of this highly politicized, and highly concentrated, group of oppositional talents. The talk at the Writers' Club is about the Soviet menace to Polish letters (though Dostoevsky and Gogol are more and more relevant); Brandys tries to give a talk on his work to a session of the (underground) ""Flying University""--but finds the police there on his arrival (Kuron and Michnik, less lucky, are beaten by party-organization thugs); he attends meetings of P.E.N., where he is disgusted by the uncritical romantic aura attached to the Polish Second Republic (the brief inter-war period of independence). This last reveals Brandys' stature as a critical intelligence. The P.E.N. speaker has defiled the Golden Age by suggesting his own apolitical complicity in Poland's fall, a complicity tied to the then-easy life of university professors. The audience is angered by the suggestion that anything was wrong with that time before the Germans and Russians--but Brandys knows two things: he knows that the speaker was unjust in suggesting a parallel in complicity, since many of those in the room had suffered for bearing witness; and he knows that the Second Republic suppressed minorities, was led by an autocrat (a glorious one, but an autocrat just the same), and was rife with anti-Semitism. He knows that the Germans were the mass exterminators of Polish Jews, but he knows (because he heard himself) that Polish gentiles were indifferent. Romantic visions are not for Brandys--whose pessimism grows along with the Soviet troop movements; who can't muster much sympathy for West German radicals (he calls the temptations of Western commercialism a manifestation of life, as compared with the depressing poverty of the East) or for French intellectuals; and who is truly amazed only when the Polish Pope's first visit to his home results in a temporary absence of police and a lightening of spirit that momentarily lets Warsaw be a ""normal"" city. Brandys left for New York a week before martial law was declared, and now lives there and in Paris. It's hard to imagine him out of Warsaw's Old City after reading this remarkable diary.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1983
Publisher: Random House