(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The events which make up the plot of Jerzy Andrzejewski’s Ashes and Diamonds occur over a period of four days in an industrial city of modest size called Ostrowiec. Situated approximately ninety miles due south of Warsaw, the city of Ostrowiec had already been liberated by Soviet forces in January, 1945. The novel itself formally begins on Saturday, May 5. It is on this day that Stefan Szczuka, a Polish Communist in charge of administering the entire district, narrowly escapes assassination at the hands of some members of the outlawed underground organization known as the Home Army. An unfortunate consequence of the miscarried ambush is the inadvertent killing of two innocent workmen from a local cement factory. Maciek Chelmicki, one of the participants in the ambush, is ordered by his superiors to make a new attempt to eliminate the Communist functionary. Chelmicki therefore checks into the Hotel Metropol, where he succeeds in obtaining a room immediately adjacent to the one occupied by Szczuka. In the reception hall at this hotel an official banquet is to be held later on that same day in anticipation of the imminent surrender of Nazi Germany. There is also a less formal assembly of townspeople in the bar situated next to the reception hall of the hotel. By reporting on both of these gatherings in great detail, the author is able to acquaint his readers with a host of characters drawn from a wide spectrum of Polish society without unduly complicating the structure of the plot.

One of the problems confronting Szczuka pertains to the ultimate disposition of a case involving a former jurist named Antoni Kossecki, a man recently released from the German concentration camp of Grossrosen. Szczuka, for his part, has firsthand knowledge of Mr. Kossecki’s collaboration with the enemy, for he had also spent a few months at Grossrosen after his own arrest by the Gestapo before being transferred to other camps in Germany. Most distressed over the affair is Szczuka’s deputy, Franciszek...

(The entire section is 817 words.)