Ashes and Diamonds

by Jerzy Andrzejewski

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Critical Context

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Ashes and Diamonds is by far Andrzejewski’s best-known work. Not only was it widely translated into many other languages, but it was also made into a film by the celebrated Polish director Andrzej Wajda in 1958. The screenplay, it is interesting to note, was a collaborative effort by Wajda and Andrzejewski. When subsequently released abroad, the film received much critical acclaim and won many major awards for excellence.

The finest critical assessment of the novel itself is contained in Czesaw Miosz’s collection of essays entitled Zniewolny umys (1953; The Captive Mind, 1953). Much of this book is devoted to the fate of four writers in Communist Poland, and it provides a moving account of their gradual descent into spiritual slavery under Stalinist oppression. Although Miosz designates these men only by abstract labels—Alpha, the Moralist; Beta, the Disappointed Lover; Gamma, the Slave of History; and Delta, the Troubadour—the writers’ identities are not hidden from anyone familiar with postwar Polish literature.

Those who have read Ashes and Diamonds will have no difficulty in recognizing that “Alpha” is Andrzejewski. Miosz’s essay states the fact that Andrzejewski formally became a Party member shortly after the publication of Ashes and Diamonds despite his serious reservations over the official policy that made the practice of Socialist Realism mandatory for all Polish writers. It is important to recognize, however, that Miosz’s account is necessarily incomplete, and that Andrzejewski’s adherence to Communist ideology proved to be merely a temporary phase in his literary career. By the mid-1950’s, Andrzejewski came to reject the Marxist axiom that the laws of historical materialism ensure the triumph of Communism. He went on to write several novels in which he attacked the rule of totalitarian regimes. Foremost among these works are Ciemnosci kryja ziemie (1957; The Inquisitors, 1960) and Apelacja (1968; The Appeal, 1971). These books are unlikely to achieve the popularity of Ashes and Diamonds, but they may still be of interest to those wishing to read novels that explore the moral dimensions of politics with keen understanding and intelligence.

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