Maia (Teresa) Wojciechowska John R. Tunis - Essay

John R. Tunis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["A Single Light"] is a short book, not more than 30,000 words. (How often good books are short!) I read it twice, to see whether it was as fine as it seemed. It was even better.

Basically a parable, "A Single Light" is a message of love and need, hung round a deaf-and-dumb girl….

The unnamed girl's story is told in the simplest terms. As it moves to its climax, we see how her presence changes the lives of those around her: the priest, his housekeeper, the towns-people—even the visiting art-expert from America, who discovers a priceless Renaissance sculpture of the Christ Child hidden in the local church.

The girl, who has long since accepted the statue as the counterpart of a real child she once nursed, flees with it to the woods. The people of Almas, deciding she is a witch, are prepared to kill her, until the local hunchback gives his life to turn the human stampede aside. Later, the priest and the art-expert find the girl beside a forest stream, with the statue cradled in her arms. The American wants to take her away for "rehabilitation." The priest, who has gone through a moral catharsis of his own, insists that she stay on in Almas. Together, he says, they will teach their neighbors to love instead of hate.

But the overtones in Maia Wojciechowska's book defy synopsis. The finale, in the hands of a less skillful craftsman, could have seemed overdone, even spurious. Here, it is both austere and moving. The whole tale moves and flows, like life. Hope for the future of man is its essence….

Will it be read by young Americans today? Who knows? Those who do read it will carry it with them all their lives.

John R. Tunis, "That Day in Almas," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 5, 1968, p. 3.