(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Polish Complex centers on one of the constants of contemporary Polish life—waiting in line. In this case Poles are waiting outside a jewelry store in Warsaw for gold rings to arrive from the Soviet Union. The entire novel takes place in this line, although there are vivid interludes at other sites—a remote forest in Lithuania, for example, and a hotel room in another city. In these partly surrealistic and dreamlike episodes, a historical journey takes place as well as a geographical one. The episodes re-create scenes from the unsuccessful Polish rebellion of 1863; the sense of defeat, disappointment, inevitable doom, and eternal struggle suffered by the main characters of these episodes provides a psychological glue that binds past and present, determining individual and national identity. Tadeusz Konwicki himself was a revolutionary, fighting against the Soviet troops who took over his native area of Lithuania in the 1940’s. Like Zygmunt Mineyko, the 1863 revolutionary, Konwicki was unsuccessful in his attempt to keep his homeland free, but his identification with Mineyko in defeat and blighted hopes blurs the temporal distance between the two characters and explains something of the present psychological state of the Konwicki protagonist.

As Konwicki waits in line for the order to arrive from the Soviet Union, he makes the acquaintance of a number of other people. The two major characters he meets are Kojran and Duszek, standing behind Konwicki in that order. The order is symbolic, for these three have followed one another in the past. Kojran followed Konwicki with a death order for a time after Konwicki had dropped his revolutionary sympathies in favor of Socialist leanings. Duszek, in turn, pursued Kojran to torment and imprison him. Now, however, the three men join in a kind of begrudging camaraderie, even going off to have a drink together. They share an unspoken disillusionment over the value of intense...

(The entire section is 794 words.)