A MINOR APOCALPYSE by Tadeusz Konwicki
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Konwicki's previous novel published here, The Polish Complex (1982), had a fierceness about it that brought together all its obsessive, flea-bitten qualities--shambling style, set-pieces, drunken satires. And now, as Konwicki himself again appears as narrator but also as the protagonist, he offers an even more arresting book: frequently amusing, very personal, very angry, yet also elegiac and abrim with a Slavic philosophy of the ultimate. Konwicki-the-narrator is approached by two weary and disagreeable Polish opposition members, who ask him a favor: why doesn't he set himself on fire in front of the Communist Party Congress underway in Warsaw that very day? Defeated, a writer who sees no point in writing anymore, Konwicki seriously considers this proposition--especially when beautiful Russian dissident Nadezhda, on loan to the Polish opposition, offers herself as an added enticement. (In a fine comic scene she alternately seduces him and insults his Polishness.) Thus, for the rest of the day, Konwicki--seemingly and numbly acquiescent--wanders Warsaw, a gasoline-can filled with paint thinner in his hand; he settles or simply complicates old scores (Polish readers, we're told, read the book as a direct hit upon opposition patriarch Jacek Kuron and film director Andrzej Wajda); he enters and leaves various phantasmagoric situations--from a party in an underground vault containing a vast feast (the only big banquet Poland can still afford) held in waiting. . . to a campfire around which are ringed all of the women in Konwicki's life. And he lets out with molten, ironic polemics: ""It was the great epidemic of bribes which saved this system. Bribes and baksheesh have humanized an inhuman society. From the highest Secretary to the lowliest night watchman, everyone is on the take and everyone is stealing. We sail on a boundless sea of sanctioned theft. Our ship will never break up on the rocks by the shore because we'll never see the shore again. The system began its career with Lenin's slogan: 'Steal what's been stolen.'"" What makes this novel so unsettling--and so significant in terms of Eastern European literature--is Konwicki's dangerous-seeming instability of tone: Is he being shabby-comic? Inquisitional? Despairing? Indeed, his casual, unpredictable ferocity gives this book--foreshadowed by its title--the feeling of a bomb held in your hand.

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 1983
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux