Owls’ Dream

Jerzy Sosnowski
Owls’ Dream
  • Wielka Litera
    Warszawa 2016
    215 x 130
    272 pages
    ISBN: 978-83-80320-89-5

Since the publication of the novel That’s the One ten years ago, the Warsaw writer returns to his beloved Kołobrzeg. This time, however, it is in an entirely different way, and for different reasons. Previously this Baltic seaside resort had been a town of disquieting mysteries, it had been swathed in gloom. In this latest work, Kołobrzeg is practically depicted as an Arcadian locale, but not on account of its landscape. The charm of this town derives from the memory of the narrator, who is adult, omniscient, and rooted in the present-day world. He tells us of a series of summer holidays spent by the protagonist in Kołobrzeg, first as a child, then as a teenager. On the one hand, the storyteller makes no effort to hide the fact that he longs to return to the days when he and his loved ones were simply happy; on the other hand, he knows all too well that such a return is always problematic – if it does occur, it is only as a kind of fantasy. We realize fairly quickly that it is precisely this fantasy that we are dealing with.

In 1970, eight-year-old Jarko Wolski visits the Baltic coast with his parents. The book details this month-long stay, but moments later, with the passing of only a few days, Jarko is a thirteen-year-old or alternatively a ten-year-old; without changing locale, he can also be fifteen or eighteen years old. All in all, space has been immobilized, while time has “gone mad” – it speeds up or slows down, only to return to the point of departure for the novel’s finale (Jarko returns to Warsaw as an eighteen-year-old). Given these phenomena, it strikes us that the warm memories of the summer vacations spent in Kołobrzeg have overlapped. Jerzy Sosnowski, or more precisely, the narrator representing him in the novel, has adopted a concept that borders on the metaphysical, which intersects with the philosophical/religious notion of apocatastasis (which is more religious than philosophical as Owls’ Dream contains allusions to Origen). In conversation with the mother, the omniscient narrator recalls “an image of Heaven as a chance to stroll fluidly through the past, to visit times when we were happy.” This is how we ought to understand this fantasy, as a return to an original perfection, albeit one that – as the adult storyteller faithfully informs us in one of his many intrusions into the narrative – is not the result of a reconstruction, but the effect of our present way of imagining a time when we were happy. This is just how things seem to us, and this is worth hanging onto.

Jarko Wolski’s summer vacations have nothing stereotypically wondrous about them. It would be a stretch even to call the boy’s experiences “adventures”; at least, they are not those of the kind found in swashbuckling novels for young readers. Jarko basically remains in the company of his family – a special bond ties him to his parents (especially to his father, whom he calls “Papa” in the novel) and to a lesser degree his elder sister; a general happiness pervades everything. In Sosnowski’s creation this idyllic quality takes unexpected forms: the Wolskis are a normal, totally average family; they show one another as much goodness and affection as a family should. There is nothing really extraordinary that happens, but this is what makes the situation so remarkable. This particularly applies to Papa, the humble math teacher, who is earnest in the best sense of the word; a man who is a good father not because he tries to be “the good father” – he simply has inexhaustible stores of goodness in him.

The theme of art also appears in Owls’ Dream. An extremely sensitive boy who loves to use his imagination, Jarko wants to become a writer. We see his first attempts at writing; we follow the evolution of the boy’s views on literature, as he passionately ponders what good prose should be like. As we have mentioned, the boy is sometimes a serious teenager, which undoubtedly allows Sosnowski to lay out his own views on literature (prose in particular). The young protagonist then becomes a medium which sometimes speaks, we feel licensed to believe, on behalf of the writer. This is a very interesting tactic. It holds the reader’s attention for the whole of the novel – which is unquestionably fascinating, elegantly woven, and accomplished from a literary point of view.

– Dariusz Nowacki