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A Dreambook for Our Time by Tadeusz Konwicki

A Dreambook for Our Time

by Tadeusz Konwicki

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A Dreambook for Our Time is a vividly told, character-driven narrative about the lives of a group of Polish adults in the late 1950s, about the time of Sputnik. The action takes place in a Polish village somewhere on the Sola River. A huge presence in the novel is that of the nearby forest. It was in the forest that many people hid from the Nazis during the war. It was also in the forest that Polish partisans operated during wartime; that Hitler was said to have hidden the "gold of the Jews"; and that one Huniady, a partisan turned bandit, was said to have his hideaway. In the present day action of the story, the local residents are bracing themselves for the eventual inundation of the valley for a new dam is now under construction. We first come across our narrator as he lies recovering from a suicide attempt in the parlor of his landlady, Miss Malvina. The main characters of the novel are pretty much all introduced in this scene. There is the Partisan, a local warlord who has lost power now that national and local government have been reestablished; Miss Malvina, a religious nut, but one who likes her drop and has an overweening sense of the social proprieties; her brother Ildefons Korsak, an old soldier half out of his mind after serving in a numerous wars who may conceivably be suffering from syphilis-related dementia; Joseph Car, the local evangelist preacher; Regina, a shopkeeper at the state-owned store who rejects the lusty Partisan's incessant offers of love; Justine, Car's wife who carries on an affair with our narrator; and others more peripheral. The story is for the most part about the daily grind of the main characters, who do not by any means strive to live the "examined" life. They drink ungodly amounts of vodka on the slightest pretext and in their cups act out in the most absurd ways. For the Partisan the central issues are his loss of face (power) and Regina's refusal of him. For the narrator, it is his failure during the war as a NCO of the Polish Home Army. There are a number of flashbacks to wartime during which we get the backstory on our narrator. Dreams intrude on daily life, but they are never indistinguishable from reality. One of my concerns on starting the novel was that it would lack coherence, that I would be at sea amid a bunch of unconnected and ambiguous images à la symbolist poetry. It is a "dreambook" after all. But that was not the case. Highly recommended for the deep reader. (Don't take it to the beach.)
1 vote Brasidas | Apr 20, 2011 |
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