Dorota Zańko - Opowieści z Powielacza

Opowieści z powielacza - Dorota Zańko

I read something in Polish (apparently also known as 'gibberish' - you know who you are) again and I am going to review it here for your pleasure. 

'Opowieści z powielacza' means 'Mimeograph Stories'. If you worked in the underground opposition in the 80's communist Poland a mimeograph was something you really wanted to have. It was very useful for producing underground press, pamphlets, proclamations etc. And this is more or less what the book is about, it's about a group of young people who fight the government during the Martial Law in Poland. 

Now, this is a subject very dear to me. I was born during the Martial Law and I have always been fascinated by it. There is hardly a better subject to write about in the recent Polish history. It is an endless source of conflict, drama, absurd and anecdotes. In fact, my first novel (currently in the making) will be set in that period as well. Rationed food, government spies, tanks on the streets, shortage of just about anything and ridiculous ways in which the government tried to solve the problems. For example, the problem of petrol shortage was solved in the following way: you were only allowed to refuel on the day that corresponded with your registration plate, therefore if your registration ended with 4, you were only allowed to visit petrol station on the 4th, 14th and 24th. There was also constant shortage of packaging so whatever you bought was always in 'substitute packaging', so your mints came dressed up as raspberry hard candy with a stamp saying 'substitute packaging'. There was no real chocolate but you could occasionally buy something called: "product chocolate-like'. I could go on like this forever. There were of course serious issues as well like people being arrested and killed. 

So basically Martial Law makes it easy for the writer and Zańko is milking it. In the first half, like in some Russian early 20th century novel, she introduces one hundred characters with no personalities and no reason for being in the book, whose main character is the Martial Law anyway. There are endless anecdotes about the life under communism, which I suppose people outside of Poland would find very interesting, but people in Poland know like the back of their hand. Zańko is really struggling to take the book to its pivotal point where the story just starts rolling. Finally she is done with the set up somewhere halfway through the novel, and we find out which four characters are relevant to the story and what the whole thing is about. And then it suddenly becomes a really good book. (Mine will be better though). It asks important questions, avoids simple answers and most importantly is devoid of the loftiness that most Polish writers feel is necessary when writing about Important Events from Polish History. Zańko dares to say that when you are 21 and you rebel, it is not always because you truly believe in the cause. Sometimes it is because you are just 21 and rebelling is what you do, and sometimes you do it because you fall in love. And sometimes because it seems like so much fun. And if you betray the cause it might be for a myriad reasons as well. It is probably obvious to you that there are not only two kinds of people - good and bad but if you listened to some of the analysis of the Polish communist past you would come to the conclusion that in Poland back then, there were in fact only two kinds of people. 

So now you have two choices, 

a) you can learn Polish and read this book 

b) you can wait for MY book to be published and read it instead. 

(The timescale for both options is probably similar).