Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

I Am Invited to Write about Konwicki

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

I Am Invited to Write about Konwicki

Article excerpt

I STARTED MY READING of Konwicki with Moonrise, Moonset (1982; English translation 1987) which may have been a mistake. I liked it. The wit, the complaining, the cracks at the competition, the rooster struts, the confessions of weakness, envy, laziness, the flights into the past, back to the war (what war? what other war is there?), back to the Hollywood of the thirties, forward to the films of modern times (he also makes films), more envy, more cracks, the man does go on, making fun of himself, of others, but making no bones about who he is: he's a real writer, folks, the genuine article, why he hasn't won the Nobel Prize or at least a stupid Academy Award is a mystery. Moonrise, Moonset is a memoir, a journal, a dustbin of failed fiction, a diatribe, a hoot, and a holler.

Then I read A Minor Apocalypse (1979; in the U.S. 1983) which is advertised as a novel, and I suppose it is, but the narrator sounds just like Knowicki in Moonrise, Moonset. No problem about that. None. In fact I don't really care who is telling the story.

Narrator: You don't care about me? Look, I've got to set myself on fire. How would you like to be told you've been selected to douse yourself with gasoline and go up in flames?

He's sensitive, this narrator. Touchy. He's also telling the story. And if he ever does torch himself in the book, a miracle must save him, because how else could he live to write about it? So all I mean about not caring, I tell him, is that I understand fairly soon that I'm in a kind of parable or joke--a comedy--whose aim is to ridicule the Party, the System, the hacks, the crapola. So that's what I focus on: the message, the routines, the search, for example, for good Swedish matches because when push comes to shove you can depend on them. Ha, ha.

So that's all? K.'s narrator says.

No, I say. I have problems of my own. In the middle of reading your novel, where things become better for you as an artist (in my view), things become not so good for me in my personal life.

You are mixing fiction with fact, he says.

So what else is new? I say.

What happened to you? he wants to know.

My daughter fell in love with a Pole.

He sighs. So tell me about it. But be quick. Remember, I've been selected for a great honor.

I tell him I was living in Warsaw during 1987-88. That my daughter flew over to visit me, see a little of the country, and was romanced by a certain Jacek. When she returned to the States, they exchanged letters and tapes and--

Ah, tapes. The living voice. Perhaps a measure of contemporary music thrown in, loud, with a heavy head-throbbing beat. So it was serious, he says. At least on the boy's part.

Then when I went home, I say, she wanted me to invite him over. Send an official letter to the U.S. Embassy. She was in college at the time. I wanted her to graduate.

But you felt if you invited this Jacek over, she would be distracted from her studies. Better for her to finish school first, right? How soon would that be?

A year and a half, I say.

An eternity, he says.

We nod and sigh.

So she pleaded, he says. She promised. And you, you gave in. And the boy shows up and everything goes to hell, right? Right in the middle of your enjoyment of my novel. What rotten luck. I don't want to hear any more. Tell me, though, what were you doing in Warsaw?

Teaching at the University, I say, and coaching the city's baseball team.

Baseball! But this is crazy. What was going on really? A CIA maneuver of some kind, right?

It was crazy. We played on soccer fields, but the caretakers of the fields didn't want us to hurt the grass. They wanted us to lay down canvas between the base paths, and on the pitcher's mound, in the batter's box.

At least, he says, give me a cigarette if I must hear this nonsense. Hurt the grass, bah!

I'm supposed to be writing about you. …

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