Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Ostensibly, Konwicki’s Moonrise, Moonset is a book that records daily events, catalogs friendships, reveals collective complexes and personal feelings of guilt and skepticism, and throughout appears to be an expose of one specific historical time and one individual sensibility. The more profound underlying current, however, is Konwicki’s search for his true self. The question unposed yet constantly present is: Who is the real Konwicki—child-guerrilla, Communist, writer, director, father, Polish tourist, or senior citizen-student? Which role encases his true essence? How does each become just another facet of the self, incomprehensible in its many, self-contradictory manifestations?

Konwicki’s calm but searching, not to mention witty, authorial voice is the taut lifeline that guides the reader through the maelstrom of historical upheavals, deforming collective experiences, realizations of his worst nightmares, fluid political creeds, nagging doubts, abiding skepticism, and ever-present guilt. It is this voice—so painfully conscious of its own flaws and unreliability—and its striving to witness and articulate, even to its own detriment, that becomes a value. Konwicki’s measure of faith in the face of despair becomes his offering to the reader.

Moonrise, Moonset illustrates effectively how a hybrid, “mongrel” form can expand the more conventional journal form to convey rich, complex, emotion-ridden experience in an attempt to grasp a single reality. Because Konwicki’s work is not bound by constrictions of genre or chronology (the interspersed fictional fragments are set in World War II and immediate postwar Poland), one year of life in modern-day Poland conveys decades of collective and individual experience. Many modern Polish writers claim that “pure” forms are no longer adequate to convey human experience in the twentieth century because this experience is too bewildering and raw to be expressed in a form too refined and polished. Konwicki explodes the journal form to render the life surrounding him in all of its dynamic multiplicity, simultaneously frivolous and profound, and to extract, from these mountains of everyday minutiae, one mote of authentic experience.