Andrzej Czcibor-Piotrowski's new book is a sequel to his Rzeczy nienasycone (Insatiable Things), a novel about the maturing of a youth in the months preceding the outbreak of World War II and the first years of the war when his family was exiled to Kazakhstan. Cud w Esfahanie (The Miracle at Esfahan) is an equally fascinating and expressive novel. The eleven-year-old Andrzej leaves Kazakhstan to begin his journey of war banishment. In the company of other orphans he wanders around vast and unfamiliar, but enchanting lands. His route leads him to Alma Ata, Samarkand, Tashkent, and Esfahan, a magical city where miracles may happen at any moment. After a thousand and one nights he reaches Egypt and finally remote Scotland. The story of his exile is a lyrical narrative of his erotic initiation and the awakening of his youthful affection. Love and sensuality shelter the young boy, so cruelly afflicted by history, from the nightmare of the ongoing war and endow his tragic memories with a poetic and mythical dimension. In the boy's memory, events, places and people merge into a fascinating fairy-tale while evil mingles with a passionate desire for life.
Andrzej Czcibor-Piotrowski (b. 1931) is a Czech Studies expert, and translator of Czech, Slovakian and English literature. The first part of his sequence about a childhood spent in exile, Insatiable Things, is shortly to be published in French translation.
There are several dozen of us here: shorn and shaven, naked, we stand in the vaulted refectory, hardly daring to speak out loud, nor even to breathe too deeply, since we're sure the least sound would ring out like a shot, so instead we scrutinise one another; we still don't know each other, we still have no idea who's who, what our names are, where any of us are from, though we all know what we've gone through to get here; and now we aren't even ashamed of ourselves anymore, no longer cover our featherless cocks with our hands, but inside me, how strange, grows a shame like I've never felt before, not even for a moment, though there'd always been naked girls in the circle; here, where it's all boys, I'm suddenly self-conscious, like Adam and Eve in paradise after eating the apple of sin, conscious of my nakedness, that I should cover myself, even in front of these boys, who after all are no different from me, a feeling I've never had before, actually it was always the other way around: I always wanted to be seen, and to see the others, whether girl or boy made no difference, unclothed, as God made them, still, I don't move my hands, for inside me, as in all of us, I sense an expectation and a pressure, which suddenly releases, for here come four bearded monks in brown habits, they hand us each a small bar of soap and a large nubbly towel and show us the way to the shower room, to showers that suddenly start spouting jets of warm water, so we lay the towels on the bench and happily rush in under the water, the silence shatters, bursts apart, voices reverberate, at first one by one, then moments later they pair up as we wash: I lather someone's back and he mine, and soon I know that his name is Albin, just as he knows I'm Andrzej, and we look at each other, discovering in our accidental proximity something strange, a premonition of friendship, and I laugh and he laughs, we splash each other and horse around, and once again we're just carefree, barely eleven-year-old boys, no longer forced to act like adults, liberated not only of their old clothes with the traces of many months wandering from internments, but all at once of all the bad memories, too; for a moment able to forget about everything their lives had consisted of for almost two years, there up north, and later to the east and south, in the Uzbek villages, and we chase each other - first he catches me, then I catch him, deftly skirting the still friendless boys, who stand motionless and mute, in disbelief, under the streams of water, as if on the edge of tears, so we rouse the stunned and still-standing boys to join us, and soon there's a long snake gliding over the stone foundation of the shower room, faces becoming animated; it's not long before we're all singing of the fire in the forest burning and the wind its sad song bearing, and we're no longer in the shower room anymore, but at one of the stations on the steppes at the Ukrainian frontier, and once again it's the stream that freely flows and the seeds that maytide sows, and we're free,
but soon it dawns on me that I'm all alone again, that I've lost, who knows if irretrievably, now my third mother and three sisters, and their and my brother, and I've been orphaned all over, and I think: how many more times will I lose the people closest to me, for they remained - it's unclear how long - in the Soviet Union, from Krasnowodzka to the Caspian Sea I continued without them: the first transport was only soldiers, servicemen and their families, and orphans, and that boat was even big enough to hold everyone, and I stopped being the little brother to those beautiful girls, who really did love me, who wanted to be my family, and I knew I had my beautiful dead mother to thank for it, and I said a little prayer to her, certain that I would be heard, that here too I would have a mother, because she, the one in heaven, had promised me, and this made me smile again, and once more I was standing under the torrent, and we splashed about a while yet, and when we were drying off after the bath, I went up to Albin, who I'd liked so much right from the start since, although he was shorter by a head, he reminded me of Wlodek, that beautiful Ukrainian boy from the school playground in Lvov, and I asked him if he couldn't help me, as my arms didn't reach far enough, and without a word he took the towel from my hands and delicately dried my back, and afterwards, out of the blue, he passed his hands over my rounded hips and soft buttocks, then stood up and whispered into my ear: "You have a beautiful little butt, like a girl's