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Saturday, January 02, 2010

What Thomas Pynchon and Andrzej Szczypiorski Have in Common

First I should point out that Pynchon and Szczypiorski have nothing in common; at least in terms of work and genre. I simply ended the year with "The Crying of Lot 49," and began the new year with Andrzej Szczypiorsky. Why? I don't know. Andrzej Szczypiorski's novel, The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman is a complex story in and of itself. I bought this book exactly 20 years ago (seems like yesterday). The book has traveled with me to every single one of my nooks, apartments, tents, efficiencies, and finally home I have held in the last 20 crazy years of my life. And here we are, 2010, and the perfect time to pick up this little volume and become engrossed in this Jewish tale of survival and death, identity and race, nationalism and despotism.

The novel is more than simply episodic in nature. The chapters work like interlocking parts that vary from characters and point of view, to temporal abstractions and changes. Mrs. Seidenman is trying to pass for a non-Jew in occupied Poland. She has the support of a few good friends, but an informant of sorts (collaborator) turns her in to the Gestapo. From there, the wheel are in motion to get Mrs. Seidenman out of prison before it is too late. There are some fine passages here, and I am quite impressed by the translation (I do not speak Polish, but some other reviews place Klara Glowczewoska as the Polish language translator par excellence). One of the passages that most impressed me (and reached me for obvious reasons) follows: "The world lied, and their duplicity and profusion, made one's head spin. The multitude of betrayals and humiliations. The diversity of the means, methods, and shapes of betrayal. I betrayed that Jewess, but she too betrayed me. Even Christ didn't forsee that. He was too artless for that. To Judas He said "friend!" To Peter He cried, "Begone, Satan!" Perhaps that was His sense of humor." Even without the emphasis or content of the plot, this passage recalls the story of common trickery and hypocrisy. Eventually, all is restored and temporal changes indicate as many changes within the characters. For example, we see Mrs. Seidenman in 1968 still struggling with her identity as a Jewess and her Polish nationality. Pawelek Krynski, the young man who is secretly in love with her (much younger than her) grows up and becomes a leader of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s. A scene between him and a long forgotten friend displays how the young man has become disenchanted with his involvement in the movement. At the end, we are no closer to understanding the agonies of the characters as they struggle with identity, national pride and religion. This is a four star novel, but be forewarned there are many jumps and intricate changes from chapter to chapter.

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