An eclectic gathering of short stories illustrating the burden of communism.
Domanski’s debut collects stories, often based in truth, devoted to Polish anti-communist activists. The brief pieces, some barely two pages, aim to capture the moral confusion and physical deprivation wrought by authoritarian communistic rule. Besides functioning as cautionary tales about tyranny begotten from political idealism, each one is like a moral parable, describing a struggle the author encountered. For example, in “Hen,” the narrator’s mother steals a hen to feed her family, justifying her crime by pointing out that hungry neighbors often purloin her own hens. The author was made complicit in the crime by being compelled to withhold the truth, but his guilt and desire to tell the truth were overcome by his love of the taste of fresh chicken broth. In “Crystals,” the author, only 15 years old at the time, recalls living under German occupation and discovering an abandoned store stocked with fine crystal. To spite the Germans, his crew smashed them all. He was later admonished by his mother for this act of wanton destruction, but, mired in poverty, he had never seen crystal and had no idea these were objects of great expense. Despite the tales’ serious subject matter, Domanski maintains a surprisingly lighthearted tone, injecting his prose with considerable humor. In “Bees,” a swarm of bees that continually attacks government figures is labeled anti-communist. While tightly centered on a common theme, the stories needn’t be read all at once or sequentially; each stands on its own. The author admits that some of these remembrances are woven out of both fact and fiction—and some are simply fictional—but this doesn’t detract from the power of the writing’s moral instruction. Never tediously didactic, this is a beautifully written collection of historically poignant vignettes.
A serious set of meditations on communism delivered with style and wit.