Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A Minor Apocalypse quickly became a controversial novel when it appeared in 1979. Konwicki seemed to be attacking everyone—not simply the Russians and the Polish government but also dissidents and the West. Like several other critics of the novel, its American translator, Richard Lourie, identifies certain characters as based on prominent Polish artists and intellectuals. He suggests in his translator’s introduction that Konwicki is settling scores with many of his Polish colleagues, including the famous film director Andrzej Wajda. While there is little doubt that certain characters have their origins in real-life models, it seems misguided to call A Minor Apocalypse a roman a clef; that is, the author has more in mind than immediate political realities. The characters in his novel, like the character of Konwicki himself, are fully imagined figures in a fable of history. As Anders concludes, “By placing his story in an indefinite future, where time has almost ceased to exist, Konwicki captures this repetitive character of the Polish drama, giving us not Poland in a particular moment but a summa of Polish history.”

A Minor Apocalypse is one of those novels that is particularly sensitive to the changing currents of history. It was written just before the Solidarity strikes in August of 1980. At that time, Polish society seemed particularly stagnant and divisive. The standard of living was rapidly dropping, the political opposition to the government seemed hapless, and the country seemed to be drifting toward the apathy that is so acutely present in the novel. The stunning success of Solidarity then seemed to prove Konwicki wrong, for the country aroused itself in a massive movement in favor of democracy and human rights. Yet the subsequent suppression of Solidarity supports his skeptical vision about the possibilities of a permanent change for the better. Whether anything more than a “minor apocalypse” is possible in Poland is an open question, a question Konwicki has posed with great wit, humor, and tolerance.