By Jerzy Andrzejewski
New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1971
Preface by Jan Kott
118 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
January 2010

According to Jan Kott, who wrote a preface to my copy of the novel, Jerzy Andrzejewski was deeply influenced by Franz Kafka, and Kott compared this novel to The Trial, and also to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I must admit, that preface really puzzles me. Certainly there is the darkness of Kafka, and the themes of dramatic totalitarianism that Solzhenitsyn brought to light, but those images planted by Kott got very much in the way, and nearly spoiled my read of this novel.

Fortunately the brilliant prose of Andrzejewski broke through and allowed me to read the novel on my own and come to regard it as a marvelous piece of fiction. The story line is simple and thin. Martin Konieczny, 41, is in The Clinic for Psychosomatic Diseases, of which Dr. Flebanski is both the director and the primary person who works with Konieczny.

I really loved Andrzejewski’s first page description of the clinic:

Block 9, along with most of the hospital buildings, dates from the first half of the nineteenth century, but the mellowness of its walls speaks of neglect rather than historical importance.

Martin has a dramatic and encompassing case of paranoia and persecution. He is convinced that virtually everyone is a spy for the state, building a case again him, yet, as he knows, he is a very loyal party man. He is, however so paranoid that most people who meet him dislike him, and he takes their dislike as evidence that they are also party spies.

Konieczny is so convinced of his innocence (and persecution) that he decides to write a note to the head of state, explaining his patriotism and loyalty and complaining of the spies who have falsely reported on him. He decides to entitle this letter as “The Appeal,” not as a request for “pardon” since first of all he has never been accursed of anything, and secondly to ask for a pardon would somehow suggest his guilt.

The bulk of the novel is that crazy document. One of my favorite parts is where he explains to the head of state that:

It is difficult for me to state precisely how many agents and spies the Counter-intelligence has sent out to watch and spy on me, but I estimate that there were approximately thirty thousand persons of both sexes. In saying this I base myself on real facts, namely that, although I have a good visual memory, I have never observed, in the space of twelve years, the same man or woman appearing twice within my field of vision as a snooper, I assume therefore that for controlling every step I took, including travel to work and journeys to the Technical College at Lodz as well as to T for medical purposes, at least seven agents daily had to be used, one set of three and two pairs, which gives us a monthly figure of 210 hirelings, yearly 2,520, and over twelve years 30,240.

At that point I was roaring out loud. I mean, that’s some serious paranoia! In the utter absurdness of his condition he even believes the state has some “Electronic Brain” that can somehow (he has no understanding or idea how) be implanted in him to report on his thoughts and acts.

If ever Dr. Flebanski or any other person in authority questions him in the slightest, that is simply taken as evidence by Konieczny that this person is a spy, which includes his wife and somewhat doting brother-in-law.

As readers we are treated to his development of “the appeal” and an account of what is going on in the institution where he currently is being treated.

I found the story to be brilliant, gripping, utterly absurd and totally delightful. But, Kafka it is not; Solzhenitsyn it is not. At first I thought it was, and rather derivative and thus not so interesting. But as the novel went on it got more and more intriguing and for a while I thought it might have been satire on Kafka and his paranoia in The Trial, The Castle and Metamorphosis. Soon however, Andrzejewski won me over and I saw something different than the author of the preface.

I came away believing I was given insight into the life of a man who might well have had some serious tendencies toward paranoia, but that the Polish state of the 1960s was such that it exacerbated the likelihood that the paranoia would flourish, and thus in many ways the crazy Konieczny is an everyman figure of Poland at that time.

Perhaps what I like best about the novel is sort of two-fold: the story utterly gripped me and I’m not terribly sure what it MEANS. I kind of like that.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett