Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Entangled in Poland

He tried smiling roguishly into the side mirror. What a tragedy. Like a German pretending to find Polish humour funny.
Entanglement, by Zygmunt Miłoszewski, has a lot going for it, starting with a wealthy corpse with a skewer through his eye in a repurposed monastery, journeying through quack psychiatry and marital infidelity, and ending in the archives of Poland's secret service.

Prosecutor Teodor Szacki is a solid protagonist. There's nothing spectacular about him — and I mean this as a compliment. No quirks, no special methods, no esoteric hobbies (not poetry or opera), no drinking problem; he's not a fuck-up, at least not in anything but a very average way. He dresses well, perhaps above his station ("a suit the colour of diluted silver").

His intuition occasionally comes into play — a niggling feeling that something's not right, not complete — but it never overshadows the real work, the research, exhausting all avenues. His problem: he's bored. Personally and professionally. So when he actually finds something interesting, it can drive him pretty far.
He reached his block and glanced up at the illuminated kitchen window on the second floor. He didn't feel like going home, so he sat on a bench in the courtyard to enjoy the June evening. It was already after nine, but it was still warm and light, and there was a smell of the city cooling down. At moments like these he felt like the nightingale in Julian Tuwim's poem, who upsets his wife coming home late for supper.
It's references like this that make me feel connected to my Polishness.

Warsaw is the backdrop. We visit its parks and cafes, and tour through its various districts. Contemporary Poland really comes alive in the chapter openings, where Miłoszewski runs down the day's headlines — it's 2005 — touching on local politics and including the weather report.

The story digs back into the days of Communism and the rule of General Jaruzelski, and the unpleasantness of those times follows Szacki into the present day.

I suppose most readers will view all these elements as "colour" to round out a good crime story. For me, the murder is an entry point to contemporary Polish culture and recent history.

See also the following reviews:
Swiftly Tilting Planet

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