One evening, after drinking more than he usually does, Franciszek Kowalski yells a few things he shouldn’t at a policeman. This being 1950’s Poland, Franciszek is arrested for criticising the government. After a night in jail alongside several other men who are all basically sleeping it off, Franciszek is cited and released.
However, Franciszek is a dedicated, lifelong member of the communist party who truly believes. He cannot accept what he has said about the government and the party. He believes he must go through the process of confession and rehabilitation, just like anyone who has come to express doubt. While he knows that the outburst was uncharacteristic, he believes that it reveals some deep-seated feeling that he must correct.
For the rest of Marek Hlasko’s novel The Graveyard, translated by Norbert Guterman, Franciszek goes about trying to find someone who will listen to him and help him bring himself back into the party fold.
Unfortunately, Franciszek soon discovers that he is basically the only person in Poland who truly believes in communism. Even the surviving members of the Polish resistance who fought alongside Franciszek during the Nazi occupation are all so involved in some sort of scam to escape the scope of the government or lost in the despair produced by constant government surveillance. There is simply no one left who believes in the party except Franciszek. And even Franciszek has begun to doubt.
I enjoyed The Graveyard, though I don’t think I fully understood what was going on half of the time. This is not Mr. Hlasko’s fault– I’m just not familiar enough with Polish life under communism to get all of the jokes. But I got enough of them to appreciate the humor and the horror of Franciszek’s situation.
The Graveyard was a lot like reading Gogol’s Dead Souls. Both share a similar dark, absurd sense of humor, both take a similar path to make their satirical points. Both narrators have similar views of their own society and of humanity in general. Mr. Hlasko had a very short but very productive career, completing ten novels in ten years before dying at the age of 35. There are more available in English, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for them.