By Wioletta Greg
Transit Books, 2019, 191 pp.
When I took my dumb, long prodigal journey from the Lord, I attempted to fill the gaping vacuum with something, so I immersed myself deeply into my Polish culture/heritage, which I’ve described previously (see here). I returned to the Lord six years ago, but I still like to occasionally check out Polish stuff and I recently stumbled across this new autobiographical novel from a Polish author in our library’s catalog.
It’s 1994 and Polish society is still digging out from under 44-years of Soviet domination and repression and must endure the painful transition to a market economy. Despite the new political freedoms, many Poles are still consumed with the hardships of the past. Wioletta moves from the small village of Hektary in southern Poland to the nearby city of Częstochowa to study literature in college. Unable to secure a dorm, she is forced to live at a workers’ hostel with a collection of “misfits.” The circumstances at the hostel disintegrate into chaos and Wioletta is forced to move into a room at a nearby convent. The mother superior is slipping into dementia and confuses Wioletta with a girl from her long-ago past. In a game of accommodating self-interest, Wioletta begins playing the part and barely escapes with her life. But after securing other accommodations, life gets no easier. Throughout this three-year ordeal, Wioletta must constantly navigate through unstable relationships and challenging, difficult circumstances. Her story is an allegory for post-Soviet Poland and Poles.
I write pretty much every day for this blog, but I’m under no pretension that I am a “good” writer in the artistic/creative sense. Ms. Greg’s (nee Grzegorzewska) writing on the other hand is sheer poetic delight. Some of the credit must also go to able translator, Jennifer Croft. I don’t read much fiction, but when the writer is a gifted artist, it can be quite a ride. This is a melancholy tale, but such is the story of Poland’s struggles. Because of my prior immersion in Polish culture, I felt right at home walking the streets of Częstochowa, so ably and richly described in this novel. The imposing Roman Catholic monastery/citadel of Jasna Góra (“Bright Hill”) looms over the city (as well as the nation) and the sensibilities of its inhabitants, but it’s a false hope and deep down, the people know it.
Postscript: This library book still sits at home. When I went to our local library branch on March 17th to return the book, a sign on the door said it was closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.