By Andrzej Szczypiorski
This was an interesting novel and different to what I have been reading recently – apart from the writer Szczypiorski being Polish. I am in a contemporary Polish vein of literature at present and have been excited and surprised that somewhere in the world contemporary literature is… good! This is good – it’s not amazing but after the novel is finished you are left with a detailed study of how people can be blinded by their subjection to an ideal. In this case the dogma followed is extreme and not necessarily consistent with the central tenets of Christianity. In my opinion this novel is Szczypiorski trying to work out in his own mind how the appalling activities of the holocaust could have been carried out by ordinary human beings and placing this in a historical context. I think he is successful in showing the decline of society and the descent into the unspeakable crimes that occurs in Arras. The way he portrays it is exceptional and powerful and understandable. The holocaust wasn’t, for the most part, perpetrated by monsters – just ordinary people who had lost their way. It would be easier if we could believe there were hundreds of thousands of monsters and not ordinary people that did these terrible things. Whereas there were perhaps hundreds of monsters and hundreds of thousands who were carried along and without which the couple of hundred would have been thwarted. Szczypiorski enables us to see how this may have occurred in the historical example of Arras and its rulers application of Christian precepts taken out of context. Not a light read but an interesting one and Szczypiorski is successful in achieving what he set out to do.