Harar consists of lots of flashbacks evoked by the narrator/main character in order to understand himself and give himself some therapy. Mature, though still young, he talks (but not directly) about his own disparity and hypersensitivity. He describes various, generally imaginary fears that have paralysed him since early childhood, and the injuries he has suffered to body and soul. He appears to foster all sorts of psychological obsessions, at least up to a certain moment; he is a collector of bad memories, and the roots of his suffering seem to be in everything (at school, at home and in the playground) and everyone (his teachers, parents and childhood playfellows). Marked with pain and grief, these memories tell a melancholy tale of being a social misfit and of experiencing a personality breakdown. However, this gloomy, depressive tale does have its counterpoint, as a love theme appears, at first just in short flashes, but by the end of the novel quite patently. The oversensitive neurotic hero turns out to have been saved by a woman and fully cured, as we are to understand it, thanks to requited love and fatherhood. The virtues of Kobierski’s novel are an impeccable style, linguistic excellence and poetic charm. Harar is an extremely evocative and atmospheric novel, and undoubtedly stands out among the literary debuts of recent years.
- Dariusz Nowacki
Radosław Kobierski (born 1971) writes poetry and fiction and has published several volumes of poetry and short stories. Harar (2005) is his first novel.
At the beginning of May I was sent to a sanatorium for treatment. There I was referred to several specialists, enlisted for the purpose of pronouncing whether or not a person is capable of taking decisions for himself in a reliable and constructive way; relatively sane society, in other words the court doctor, the psychologist or personnel guy, sends me on a rest cure. I wonder how come they’re so sure I’m not sane, and I’m told, “first we must establish the criteria we’re going to use to assess the state of health or illness”, and then I’m asked if I agree that the objective truth is what the majority regards as such. So I reply that if this method were always applied, together with all its consequences, they wouldn’t be who they are, or they’d be fit for life in the bush.
Actually, however, I knew I had no way out – the fate of my job at the library was being decided, and I couldn’t count on any other occupation. Even if I’d had some special qualifications, finding another job would have bordered on a miracle.
I was referred, which despite the rebellion rising within me was a natural event in my life, as the dismal consequence of a whole train of referrals, because if I had made certain decisions myself, most of them were based on other people’s decisions, so I had to reconcile two different desires – my own desire to be myself, and someone else’s desire for me to live up to the hopes they placed in me. I stood on the threshold of the library, my little world, which I was in no state to keep going. I couldn’t keep anything going for more than a short time; sooner or later I lost everything I grew attached to, but maybe it was this excessive attachment and the way I demonstrated any of the feelings connected with it that caused the world to keep giving me the slip, leaving me in the middle of the road with all the baggage of my as yet tireless naivety, with all the things that had suddenly been handed back to me.
Now I think it was too hard, too insatiable. I used to corner things with my own person, I always got over-involved and had excessive expectations, and ultimately, in the long run no one is able to bear a situation where he has to be excessively giving, even if it’s only a response to someone else’s sacrifice. So the more aware I was that those to whom I was being so giving were drifting away from me, the more I pressed myself on them for fear of losing them, and the more I pressed, the sooner I lost them for good and all, as if I was encoded deep down with being my own victim, the victim of my own emotions, as if subconsciously I needed this loss in order to feel like a victim again, and to be able to proclaim my loneliness.
So I stood on the threshold of the library, which seemed even smaller than it really was, and I felt as if I were looking at it from far away, and that I had a long road to travel in order to reach it, while it was receding into the distance – the huge bookcases were turning into sets of dots all aiming towards some goal, the point where all straight lines meet, where the horizon ends.
That same day I packed and went to the station. I had no one to inform about my departure, telegrams no longer reached my world, and a recorded message down the telephone told me no such connection was possible: I realised it was just a deception, one of those countless illusions that the whole world is where it ought to be, in its place, and it’s just that I’m moving away from it.
In fact, in my soul I agreed with those who claimed I wasn’t right, not just for the sake of peace and quiet, because I had never actually had any of that; I could never convince people for whom sense and order were the basis for everything that sense and order simply didn’t exist, because at every step of the way at least some of them bore witness to the fact that sense does indeed exist, or can at least be found.
From my point of view, that is, from the position of the desk and the window, which I spent whole days on end gazing out of, I couldn’t discern the broad perspective of their vision and experience, while they on the other hand were unable to convince me that life cannot be limited to just self-limitation, to shutting yourself inside an ever narrower space, in the hope that this will bring much wanted peace. I knew there was nothing more unsafe than understanding safety in this way, nothing more disturbing than this sort of peace.
And yet I couldn’t hold back the force that was moving me away to a safe distance, to a place where everything was perfectly well known and described, where nothing could happen beyond the expected.
So really I needed limitation, in spite of the fact that outwardly I was demonstrating the very opposite. I couldn’t stand feeling cramped, so I kept changing place and was always changing people too, I couldn’t sit down or keep still for a while in one position, I couldn’t bear cities and all their planned perfection, their predictability and buildings that obscured the horizon – instead I adored open spaces; large, boundless lowlands were something I longed for, the epitome of my inner desire for openness. But even these spaces were limited by something after a while, so I’d head off somewhere else, always carrying, or dragging after me, an inner compulsion to be under constant supervision.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones