Grzegorz Uzdański's debut novel is a report on a week-long holiday trip taken by a mother and daughter (Marta and Justyna) to an agrotourist farm in Kujawy. The time is the present. The women have traveled from Warsaw, and they have chosen this place consciously – Marta's mother (Justyna's grandmother) comes from a nearby village. The hitch is that not much about the recently-deceased old woman is known for certain. Was she brought up in a German Evangelical family, or rather in one of the mixed families so prevalent in the borderlands? Or maybe she was just a German who remained in Poland after 1945 and entirely assimilated? During her lifetime, Grandmother kept quiet about her origins and everything to do with the end of World War II. Marta and Justyna expect to be able to establish something concrete on this count, perhaps they will even be able to draw up a family tree. And here the young writer has his first surprise: the investigation into the case of Grandma's origins and her youth in Kujawy does not go one step forward. The traces going back to the past have been perfectly erased, and the trip to Kujawy can only end in total failure. Uzdański also makes an important departure from this tale of a hunt for roots. Here the past slips through our fingertips, along with the protagonist, who once decided that she would never return to past events, particularly those during the war and immediately thereafter. The business of German origins was utterly repressed, and her secrets taken to the grave. As we have said, our visitors from Warsaw are left with the same meager knowledge they had when they set out. Truth to tell, they have no knowledge at all, as we see from Marta's words: “Mama's family moved to Kujawy long ago, but I can't say when precisely; maybe in the early nineteenth century, or in the eighteenth century, or even the seventeenth perhaps.” We might say that this knowledge of one's ancestors is no knowledge at all!
We gradually discover the true meaning of the women's trip to Kujawy. It is a confrontation, a clash between mother and daughter, a harsh conflict between generations. But Uzdański takes an unconventional approach to this theme as well – he has a second surprise in store for us. The quarrel between Justyna, almost thirty years old, and her mother (alternately: the mother and her daughter) reveals the similarity between the women; the differences seem superficial. Both are fairly neurotic and jaded, they both hold a host of grudges and reservations about the other, yet both try to feign mutual concern. The more they try, becoming artificial and sometimes even comical, the more this concern shows attachment, and perhaps even real love. This psychodrama is not described for us, however – Uzdański uses a double stream of consciousness, letting us see inside the heads of both Justyna and her mother. The daughter's parts are written in italics, while the mother's interior monologues flow into the “omniscient” narrative and absorb the dialogues (not only of the two main protagonists, but of other people as well). It is possible to get lost in all this talk, but the concept itself brings some remarkably interesting results, if only in the sense that we are caught up in the action, so to speak, of these communication difficulties. Uzdański is extremely credible in showing what it means to be unable to express your feelings, or even to effectively communicate your most basic needs and intentions.
Moreover, Vacation has an element of parody. Marta studied Polish literature, and there is humor in her nerdy comments on the books she reads on vacation. Or in her tirades against publishing course readings with notes (“Hamlet – quandaries, Yorrick's skull – the motif of the passing of time, Ophelia – madness. What colossal idiocy this is”). Justyna, in turn, starts putting together an “Evangelical/Kashubian soap opera,” weaving a fantasia on her Grandmother's youth in as if it were a Latin-American romance. These tactics are firm proof of the debutante's craft and, of course, bode well for the future.
- Dariusz Nowacki
Translated by Soren Gauger