Five years have passed since Daniel Odija’s last novel, The Saw Mill, was published, and in this time his fiction has gone through a lot of change. In the past, Odija wrote mainly gloomy stories about social deprivation, showing the consequences of the socio-economic transition of the past few decades in Poland. However, his new novel, Don’t Let It Be A Dream, is a small-scale psychological tale about a man whose life has come crashing down. One after another, misfortunes keep descending on Adam Nowak, a writer well into middle age: his mentally ill brother commits suicide; his parents, to whom he was strongly attached, are killed in a car crash; his wife leaves him for a richer man who happens to be a friend of his from school; he loses touch with his sons, and on top of that for years he has been unable to finish the novel he is working on. Broken-hearted, in despair he goes away to a summer cottage in a village he associates with his happiest memories.
The narrative runs on two lines. On the one hand Adam’s struggles with his recollections are described, as he sinks more and more into the realm of memory (in a pathological way, because eventually he starts to see apparitions of his loved ones, and confuses reality and memory) in his efforts to understand what has reduced his life to ruins. On the other hand, Odija presents genre scenes from village life, and through anecdotes portrays the ordinary as well as the original local people whom Nowak befriends, who try their best to keep up his spirits. Odija tells a tragi-comic tale about the way memory works, getting used to misfortune and the strength of life. Finally Adam gets himself out of his depression and recovers the will to live. Odija closes the novel with a happy ending – slightly bitter, but nevertheless happy.
- Robert Ostaszewski
Did Ewa love him? Maybe at the beginning. What about later on? In the last few years of their marriage? What did they really have between them? She definitely dominated him, not just in bed but in life in general too. Later only in life, because in bed she became inaccessible. Despite her fiery nature she changed into a block of ice. At first Adam even found it convenient. He had no desire for passion – he was too absorbed in feeling sorry for himself. He was writing a book he was incapable of writing. And as Adrian and Kamil grew up, Ewa was kept busy with more and more things. There was a time when they kept themselves going from nothing but her little shop, which sold children’s clothes, push-chairs and nappies. She had a flair for business, and if not for the woman she employed, whom she trusted infinitely, but who notoriously cheated her, one might have said the shop brought better than expected profits. Meanwhile it only brought the expected profits. However, they had enough for the bills and a sort of life. Along the way, Ewa got involved in several women’s liberation movements and took courses – ran them too – in assertiveness and writing applications for grants from the EU for women’s cultural events. Adam watched her doings with quiet pride, but envy too, because he wasn’t capable of mustering more energy than to write a single page a day, with a dubious storyline.
Ewa meanwhile, speeding ahead and winning victories, began to put pressure on him to find himself a better job than his unproductive lectures at the Academy. The kids will be off to university soon, the expenses will increase. Adam must find himself some work, best of all abroad, because the rates of pay are highest there. He should find anything. Anything? Anything, as long as he did something… Adam gave in. He went to work in Ireland. Mixed in with a crowd much younger than himself he felt like a blind guide, lost at the start of the journey. Wiesiu, his mate from college, got him a good job building interiors. He learned a lot then – how to put up a dividing wall, how to lay tiles, terracotta floors and parquet, how to nail stairs together – it was no problem, it just took an effort and precision, and a little patience. It’d come in handy now for renovating the cottage.
He worked like that for two years, visiting the family for the holidays. Ewa was extremely nice to him in those days. If he had known that while he was over there with his hammer and saw, with nails between his teeth, she’d been on top of Baran, underneath Baran, tongue to tongue with Baran…
While he was slaving away in Ireland, Baran and Ewa were coming together in a common dream of a political career. They got onto the town council. In a place like Kostyń it wasn’t at all hard to do that. All it took was a little popularity, which Ewa had among her liberated women, a few interviews in the regional newspapers, on the local radio or television channel (all the journalists were mates, anyway, friends and friends of friends), and a little money to buy up a few hundred votes – Adam was assiduously sending money across to the family account. And one more tiny detail: Ewa was backed by the party whose regional leader was Baran.
So the hard, inflexible Ewa suddenly became soft and docile. Adam watched all this with embarrassment. His wife, the cold intellectual, the analytical mind that foresaw eventual pitfalls and eliminated them without batting an eyelid, and who taught their sons to fight dispassionately for their own affairs (“Darling boys, in today’s world conscience is obsolete”), was now dissolving in Baran’s charm, was dominated by his personality, with her eyes fixed on the countenance of the Lord! Or maybe she was just in love?
During the garden party she had laughed at every one of her boyfriend’s jokes. At the same time she’d kept a close eye on the reactions of Borusewicz, who was plainly flirting with her. Baran was vacuous enough not to see anything beyond the end of his own nose, but like any animal he had a strongly developed instinct. Whatever was happening, he could sense his own advantage over Ewa’s emotions. And although Ewa was excited by Borusewicz’s interest, Baran could tell it was nothing serious. So he calmly told his next story, this time about climbing, while Borusewicz and Ewa wallowed freely in their erotic imagination. Ewa had always been flattered when educated men took an interest in her. At the peak of their careers, moreover, and… rich.
It made Adam feel sick. He wanted to cry. He tried to smash the hard lump in his throat with sip after sip of beer. It’s hard to play the tough guy when the happiness and love we have known until now have proved false. And were nothing more than our imagination of what they ought to be like.
Adrian came up. He was trying to ask about something, maybe even to cheer him up, but he was too preoccupied by the party and soon left his father to himself again. That suited Adam fine. He watched from the sidelines, without really taking part in the fun. He could see the moving exhibits, whose shifts could be examined like the moves of figures on a chessboard. Baran bore himself like the king, Borusewicz was the hetman*, and Ewa was the queen, or the female version of that same figure. Adrian’s mother-in-law was moving in between them like a knight, as was the golden-haired beauty moving between the two brothers, those two bishops from opposing teams who had more and more to say to each other. From their twisted mouths, flushed faces and abrupt movements one might never have concluded it was a conversation between two brothers who ought to be close friends. There had been enmity between them for as long as Adam could remember. He was truly tired of it by now.
And so he escaped into the remote past. His favourite memories were of his brother and his guitar-playing. Before Adam met Ewa, he and Sylwek had played in the same group for some time, which could have been called a blues-jazz combo. Young guys thrilled by music. Adam tried to make it on bass, but he didn’t do very well. If he hadn’t sung too, Sylwek would most probably have kicked his arse. And so he’d been gifted with the memory of hundreds of evenings spent at rehearsals, and the few dozen concerts they’d played! Somehow the faces of the girls they’d slept with had become blurred. So too had the parties they held at their parents’ flat, who went away to the country every weekend.
* Translator’s note: In Polish, the chess piece known in English as the “queen” is called the “hetman”.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones