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Ashes and Diamonds by Jerzy Andrzejewski

Ashes and Diamonds (1948)

by Jerzy Andrzejewski

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225351,607 (3.57)61
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    A Funny Dirty Little War by Osvaldo Soriano (chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: Military dictatorship, communists and anti-communists, armed groups of youths, ideology used for personal gain... the universal absurdity is dealt with in different, though equally effective, ways by Soriano and Andrzejewski.

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Ashes and Diamonds made for a great follow-up to Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain and if you are interested in Europe at the end of World War 2 I recommend it highly. It probably helps to know a little bit about Poland during WW2 because there are a huge number of characters in the book, all connected to each other. Ashes and Diamonds is set in Ostrowiec, a small (fictional) town in Poland, over 4 days in May 1945, just as the war in Europe is ending. The end of the war means little to many of the locals, who are trying to get their lives together after a brutal 6 years.

The Kossecki family is all back in one place – the father has survived Auschwitz but hides in his study all day, the mother just wants everything to come right, Andrew is still in the Home Army, and teenage Alek and his mates are up to something. There’s a big party happening at the Hotel Monopole to celebrate Communist victory in the war, and Andrew Kossecki and a friend of his, Michael Chelmicki, have a job to do for the Home Army. There are Communist Party hacks trying to climb their way up, people getting hammered on vodka, former aristocrats unaware at how bad their lives are going to get pretty soon, a band, a lovely barmaid, survivors of the Warsaw Uprising – just about everyone you can think of except for Jews, because they have all been killed.

As usual in books about WW2, this is all about what decisions people made and how they rationalized them. It’s a very readable book and only 240 pages long. ( )
1 vote cushlareads | Jan 13, 2013 |
Originally published in 1948, and considered one of the best Polish postwar novels, Ashes and Diamonds takes place in a Polish town in the days just before and after the German surrender in May 1945. The Soviet army has liberated the town from the Nazis, and it is still unclear what exactly will happen. The town is awash in former Polish Home Army soldiers (although unnamed as such since the Soviets had already taken over by the time of publication), local and Soviet communists, bureaucrats looking to advance, a somewhat discomfited aristocracy, returnees from Nazi concentration camps, teenagers who grew up in the chaos of the war and seem to have no values, those who seek to make money no matter who is in power, and of course regular folks. The novel switches back and forth between various people and their stories, and it takes a little while to figure out who is who and how they are connected.

Essentially, Andrzewjewski portrays people who have had to confront issues of ethics and conscience during the war, or are continuing to confront them, and how they individually decide to act. There are plots to kill people, plots to betray people, and yet people are intertwined in ways that can be awkward, at best, in the fluid situation; for example, the head of the local communists, mourning the death of his wife in a concentration camp, has to tell her sister about her death, and the sister is one of the local aristocrats. Everyone comes together at the town's hotel, the Monopole, which is striving to recapture prewar days, and they all certainly drink as if there is no tomrrow.

The title of the novel comes from a poem by Cyprian Norwid, that asks:

"Will only ashes and confusion remain,
Leading into the abyss? -- or will there be
In the depths of the ash, a star-like diamond,
The dawning of eternal victory!

It is hard to see the diamond in these ashes.

The edition I read had two introductions: one, by Heinrich Böll, written for an earlier edition, before the Wall came down, and one written by Barbara Niemczyk in the post-Communist era. Both point out that, for Polish readers would have immediately understood the unexpressed reality that the Soviets who "liberated" Poland were the same Soviets who occupied it in the days of the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact. In addition, Niemczyk notes some errors in the translation, including two long sections that were omitted by the original translator. Finally, I found it disconcerting that the Polish names were "translated" into English (sometimes incorrectly as Niemczyk points out); for example, the Polish name Maciek becomes Michael and Jerzy becomes Julius. I would have preferred it if the translator kept the Polish names.
13 vote rebeccanyc | Jul 22, 2012 |
A tale of political factional intrigue in Poland following World War II. ( )
1 vote | zenosbooks | Feb 26, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Andrzejewski, Jerzyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Böll, HeinrichIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Niemczyk, BarbaraForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Welch, D.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Maciek is a young Resistance fighter who is ordered to kill Szczuka, a Communist district leader, on the last day of World War II. The Soviet leader who has arrived in town to establish a new government. A mistake leads him to a beautiful barmaid who shows him what his life could be like and although killing has been easy for him in the past, Szczuka was a fellow soldier, and Maciek must decide whether to follow his orders.… (more)

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