The antihero (in the Camusian sense) is shown at the opening of the novel just coming out of a coma, having tried to commit suicide by poison. He is surrounded by provincial townsfolk, villagers who in their isolation and emotional impoverishment have turned their energies to creating a new religionâa private God, non-identifiable as either Christian or non-Christian.
Called "one of the most terrifying novels in postwar Polish literature,...greeted upon its appearance (in 1963) as a major literary sensation" (Czeslaw Milosz, History of Polish Literature), the novel moves through a series of flashbacks between present reality and recalled experiences. The language is that of a dream sequence with metaphors of nightmarish quality, both in intensity and "illogicality."
The young Pole who narrates his experiences reveals himself to be caught up in a labyrinth leading nowhere, driven by an urge which ultimately is a need for punishment, and represents man's longing for a responsive and benevolent force over his destiny. Acutely feeling the lack, faced with a godless universe, he sees his choice to be between selfassertive survival at any priceâmoral, sensual, intellectualâor the selfpronouncement of worthlessness and the denouement of peace attained by suicide. The hero "escapes" death and is condemned to death-in-life.
Konwicki's descriptions of the brutal mutual massacres of some of the war experiences of the narrator are unforgettable in their irony. The dialogue is witty and ironic, and retains the vernacular thrust of the Polish original. The author's experience as director and script writer earned him a Grand Prix (1958) at Venice for a film entitled The Last Day of Summer. His vivid awareness of the passing values in an increasingly superficial world of interrelationships and goals makes this passionate work a powerful indictment of modern man's progress in guilt and war and his impotence in melding his idealistic dreams and his life.
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