Konwicki (kohn-WIHTS-kih), the narrator. Konwicki is a famous middle-aged writer living in the Polish capital. Like the actual Tadeusz Konwicki, the narrator is an astute observer of the disintegration of Polish culture and its near-total (in this grim fantasy) subjugation to the Russian giant to its east. Unlike the defiant author, however, the fictional Konwicki is, in his own eyes, an aging, largely passive figure whose best work quite likely is behind him. He abhors the suffocating Russian influence and bemoans the ineffectuality that marks Polish institutions, but he is unsure what part he can or should play in protesting conditions. Thus, when revolutionary friends give him the honor of martyring himself (by burning himself to death) for the cause, his principal reaction is indecision. The very structure of his day-long odyssey around Warsaw (circular and rambling), which composes the bulk of the novel, reflects his indecisiveness, which results not only from cowardice and cynicism (can his martyrdom possibly make any difference?) but also hope. If Konwicki did not have hope that his martyrdom might make some genuine difference, his decision would be an easy one: He would decline the honor. His decision at the end, to go through with the self-immolation, is the best clue to Konwicki’s character.
Hubert, a Polish dissident. For his visit to Konwicki, Hubert dresses in his best suit and sports a cane and a “sinister-looking” briefcase. Once, in the past, Hubert had...
(The entire section is 643 words.)