Bohin Manor

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Of living Polish novelists, Tadeusz Konwicki is one of only two whose works are regularly translated into English, the other being the science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem. In his recent books, Konwicki has been playing with the distinction between author and narrator. In his novels THE POLISH COMPLEX (which appeared in English translation in 1982) and A MINOR APOCALYPSE (1983), the narrator is Konwicki himself, and the events recounted are a mixture of the fantastic and the mundane. This blurring of the line between author and narrator, between the real and the imagined, culminated in MOONRISE, MOONSET (1987), a diary interlaced with what purport to be excerpts from an unpublished novel that Konwicki wrote in his youth, in the late 1940’s. Throughout the book he moans that he has lost the power of invention, that he can no longer write fiction--yet even these laments are simply grist for his mill.

In BOHIN MANOR, a best-seller when it was published in Poland in 1987 and now expertly translated by Richard Lourie, Konwicki has taken a new tack, just when his bag of tricks might seem to be empty. At one level, BOHIN MANOR is a romantic historical novel, a literary bodice-ripper set in late-nineteenth century Lithuania some years after the Polish uprising of 1863, which was brutally suppressed by the Russians. The protagonist, Helena Konwicka, thirty years old and fearing spinsterhood, is torn between a passionate young Jewish rebel, Elias Szyra, and a...

(The entire section is 454 words.)