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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The invention of stories about oneself is the duty and irresistible temptation of the true man...", July 5, 2010
This review is from: A Thousand Peaceful Cities (Paperback)
Set in 1963 in Wisla, the rural Polish town where author Jerzy Pilch himself grew up, A THOUSAND PEACEFUL CITIES feels as much like a real memoir as a satirical, fictional retelling of life in Poland in the years leading up to the Student Revolt of 1968. By 1963 the Catholic Church has come under political fire, the press is being censored, and students and intellectuals are being persecuted. The residents of Wisla, however, see the end of Communism as an inevitability-something that will certainly happen as a matter of course, despite the subservience of First Secretary Wladyslaw Gomulka to the Soviets. As a result, they are unwilling to rebel to promote this "inevitability," preferring to remain safely within their "thousand peaceful cities."

Regarded as "the hope of young Polish prose" in his own country, Jerzy Pilch is difficult to separate from the narrator of this novel--Jerzyk ("little Jerzy"), a teenager who has already made a lifelong commitment to writing--and to finding out more about the world, especially the mysterious world of love. From the outset of the novel, the reader knows that Jerzyk's father and his father's friend, Mr. Traba, an alcoholic former clergyman, plan to kill First Secretary Gomulka in Warsaw. Traba has always wanted to do something for humanity, and he believes that this act will finally give meaning to his life.

What follows is a wild ride through rural Poland in 1963--a novel that is, by turns, hilarious, thoughtful, filled with metaphysical and dialectical argument, and embellished with lyrical details from the natural world. Throughout the entire novel, irony and absurdity dominate, but these seem somehow "ordinary" here because they are couched in the reality of everyday details. For Jerzyk, the best part of the scheme to kill Gomulka is that he will have a part in it, a chance to escape his normal life in Wisla and perform an act of national significance, and he rejoices in the fact that he is the one who will be entrusted to carry the Chinese crossbow with which they will kill Gomulka.

In a scene that resembles classical farce, the three conspirators go to the church and defend their plans against every possible moral, ethical, and religious argument the community can offer. The conspirators are Protestants--Lutherans--in a largely Catholic country, and "Not taking part is the chief characteristic of Protestants, especially in Poland." In a wonderful example of twisted logic, Traba announces that "As a Protestant who doesn't exist, I can kill without hesitation, since the act will remain in the realm of nothingness," an argument Traba refers to as "the dialectic of my patriotism."

Pilch keeps his novel, however funny, on a high literary plane, his language, including his dialogue, elegantly written and artful. A student of philology, the author fills his novel with biblical and historical argument, at the same time that he develops memorable characters. Challenging and intriguing, at the same time that it is often hilariously funny and crazily absurd, Pilch's third novel to be translated into English is a memorable visit to 1960s Poland as the country and the author are about to reach a turning point. Mary Whipple
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 15, 2010 2:22:41 PM PDT
C says:
I loved The Mighty Angel, so thanks much for this review.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 16, 2010 4:29:24 AM PDT
Mary Whipple says:
Thanks, Chris. Will put THE MIGHTY ANGEL on my TBR list. Best, Mary
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4.0 out of 5 stars (4 customer reviews)
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Mary Whipple

Location: New England

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