Playful postmodernism Central European–style—entertainment for a decidedly select demographic: automobile aficionados desperate for the inside skinny on Poland’s recent past.
Pawel knows what he likes: talking and driving, driving and talking. And that’s about it for the feckless narrator of this brief ramble of a tale. Namesake of rising literary light and former Solidarity press officer Huelle (Moving House Stories, 1995, etc.), Pawel is a motor-mouth Mercedes maniac fixated on how that spiffy car factors in his family’s legend. Himself a downscale prole in the early ’90s, he’s a student driver tooling around Gdansk in a tiny Fiat. In the midst of learning turn-signaling and parallel parking, he reminisces relentlessly about his dad and granddad. Talking the ear off his driving instructor, Miss Ciwle, a tomboy hottie, he then chronicles their conversations to send to his idol, Czech surrealist short-story writer Bohumil Hrabal. His yarns are decent-enough accounts of everyday people caught in the web of history—his grandfather weathering mustard-gas attacks as a gunner in the Royal Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army, his engineer father finding solace by tinkering with a decrepit Mercedes during the grim height of the hammer-and-sickle years. What’s better are his off-the-cuff chats with Miss Ciwle’s colleague, a martinet Pawel nicknames “Instructor Uglymug.” Wheeling through crosstown traffic, he confides in Uglymug comically dreary stories of his time in military service, “where Major Bushy-Tache educated us about the disastrous effects of long hair on national security, Lieutenant Gewgaw responded to a nuclear attack, and Colonel Pitchfork cast light on the imponderabilia of Lenin’s and Brezhnev’s doctrines.”
Colorful setting and trenchant social commentary, but a cul-de-sac plot.