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Lawina i kamienie: Pisarze wobec komunizmu.

Lawina i kamienie: Pisarze wobec komunizmu. Anna Bikont & Joanna Szczesna, eds. Warsaw. Proszyriski i Ska. 2006. 575 pages + index. ISBN 978-83-7469-438-4

Lawina i kamienie (Avalanche and stones) is an extraordinary book on the recent past. It is a study of twentieth-century Polish writers who had joined the Communist Party soon after 1945 but became disillusioned with its rule, turning against it already in the 1950s and fighting against censorship and for freedom of expression in the course of the following decades. Anna Bikont and Joanna Szczesna have amassed an impressive amount of material tracing the postwar career of, for the most part, six writers: Adam Wazyk, Jerzy Andrzejewski, Kazimierz Brandys, Wiktor Woroszylski, Tadeusz Borowski and Tadeusz Konwicki. Of the six, only Konwicki is alive today, and he is over eighty.

Lawina i kamienie should be made compulsory reading for anyone seriously interested in the cultural history of post-war Poland. Most young people are uninterested or poorly informed about the pre-1990 period--in consequence they are unable to understand either the psychological motivation of their fathers and grandfathers who seemed to have embraced Marxism-Leninism. Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind gave some clues, but its general judgment on the future of Ketman was far too pessimistic. Clearly, "historical necessity" in its Stalinist form could mesmerize Polish intellectuals only for a few years (when compared with their Russian counterparts, for a laughably short period), and that could happen only after the terrible loss of life in World War II and the genuine need for rebuilding Poland. After the death of Stalin in 1953, the ideological frost started to melt, leading to the explosion of the Poznari revolt in the summer of 1956 and the peaceful transfer of power to the "reformist" Wladyslaw Gomulka in October of the same year. While some of the leading writers discussed were hanging on to their party membership until the "Kolakowski affair" of the mid-1960s, others (Wazyk, Jastrun, Pawel Hertz) handed in their communist membership cards as early as 1957.

The authors managed to get some of the secret police reports on at least three writers discussed in the book, but these records were rather boring and disappointing. After 1956 Polish writers publishing in the West were not a rarity; some of them used pseudonyms, like Kisielewski, while others printed texts under their real name in Paris and London without leaving Poland or giving up Polish citizenship. For the student of modern Polish literature, the most interesting are such details as the fate of Rachunek pamieci (Reckoning with memory), a collection of self-critical essays, which, had it been published as intended in 1957, could have partly preempted Trznadel's controversial Hanba domowa. Also, the circumstances of Czeslaw Milosz leaving Stalinist Poland and the fact that Bertolt Brecht, then the leading playwright of the GDR, wanted to translate Wazyk's "Poem for Adults," are fascinating for different reasons. Bikont and Szczesna managed also to collect a number of amusing literary and political anecdotes; according to one of these, Konwicki, on his way to the Central Committee building to explain his pro-Kolakowski stand after the philosopher's fighting speech at Warsaw University in 1966, was supposed to have said: "I am going to kick us out of the party."

This reviewer was also pleased to learn many unknown facts about Wiktor Woroszylski, for some years a battering ram of communist policies but after 1955-56 an arch-Revisionist and co-ordinator of the protest of "dissenting" writers. His career showed that people are capable of real change if they confront their past mistakes sincerely and effectively. Lawina i kamienie contains a fair number of photographs of writers and events from the communist period and a large, useful bibliography.

George Gomori

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Author:Gomori, George
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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