Tadeusz Konwicki (kon-VIHK-ih), talented as a short-story writer, novelist, filmmaker, and journalist, is a major literary figure in Poland. He has also attracted considerable notice in the West, his reputation growing as the number of his works available in English translation increases. Konwicki was born on July 22, 1926, into a working family in Nowa Wilejka. His love for the land developed early and formed the nationalism that became a motivating factor for his later military, political, and artistic activity. The fate of his native region could be said to have shaped his writing career. In 1939 the Soviet Union annexed the eastern provinces of Poland, including Wilno. In a few weeks Wilno was ceded to Lithuania, but in June of 1940, Lithuania was taken over by Germany. During the Nazi occupation, universities and high schools were closed, and the publication of periodicals and books written in Polish was prohibited. Konwicki and his family evidenced the independence and resistance that were to become important themes in Konwicki’s later writings by his finishing high school despite the interdiction, attending a clandestinely run school. After the Soviet army drove out the Germans, Konwicki joined the Home Army fighting the Soviet troops; from July of 1944 to the spring of 1945, he was a soldier in a guerrilla unit. Konwicki later moved to Poland. His values, his sense of politics, and his philosophy about life were shaped during this period of powerless fluctuation in his native region as Lithuania and Poland became helpless pawns in the game played by larger powers.
Konwicki’s first novel, Rojsty (marshes), was written in 1948. It draws on Konwicki’s experience as a revolutionary fighting with the Home Army. It satirizes the ideals of a young man who dreams of being a national hero. The young man’s attempts to save Poland from Soviet occupation are futile, just as Konwicki himself had experienced defeat. The novel was not published until 1956, however, because of the sensitive subject matter and state restrictions, which were partially lifted in the 1950’s. It signals important themes in Konwicki’s work—a sense of futility and defeat that the individual faces because of the nation’s ineffectiveness.
For a brief time Konwicki became a Communist, and he wrote a number of short stories that supported the Party and lauded the workers who were contributing to the spread of socialism and growing industrialism. Wadza (power) was a Socialist Realist novel published in 1954. For it, Konwicki was awarded the State Prize in Literature. During this period of Communist affinity Konwicki was under threat of a death warrant by the Home Army, a situation that turns up in one of his most powerful novels of the 1970’s and points the way to his strong sense of the ironies of fate and the reversals of fortune. During this period Konwicki was also writing film scripts. He directed a short film, Ostatni dzie lata (the last day of summer), and a...
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