The protagonist of Jerzy Sosnowski's novel "That's the One" is a radio journalist hot on the trail of a mysterious story linked with the legacy of the war in Kołobrzeg and its existing German institute of eugenics. The success of the scholars working there has been to find supposed explanations for the ferocity with which the Soviet army destroyed the town shortly after conquering it.
The book is only on the surface, however, a thriller or a mystery novel. This is a psychoanalytical novel wherein nighttime radio stands in for the familiar couch. Thus the work has adventure-mystery, erotic, and maniacal strains, as if it had grown from the various times of the night - defined by the main protagonist according to the various types of people calling in. The author has laid out a few different types of obsessions and stereotypes that drive today's Poles in their attempts to understand the world. Much like in contemporary Polish social and political life, we find some hatred towards those who succeed, some dreaming of a better life and a better world, some scams, a bit of naivete and faith in miracles - together with a mistrust for everything that constitutes the official version of historical events. This tangled web can not be undone by telling the readers "how it really was," simply because this "really" does not exist, and every version of events can be undermined. Various mythologies can come into being in this way, but there can be no reliable version of the events that took place.
Sosnowski does not create the history of the town through discovering hidden truths from the past, but from a tangle of facts, private and collective myths, delusions, and resentments, from which everyone spins their own thread of the plot. This book can not, therefore, conclude with a sensationalistic finale, which would seem to wrap up all the mysteries for the reader. They turn out in the end to be the property of the main protagonist and narrator of the novel, who lends a personal note to the events and dialogues presented.
The writing here is intricate, with the use of a rich palette of styles; it is visual and sensual. The portrait of the city also makes a great impression. It seems to have found its eulogist in Sosnowski, much as Gdańsk did earlier in Stefan Chwin and Paweł Huelle.
"It's hard to keep from asking if you believe me."
"I don't know." Jodłowski was trying to be kind. After all, the elderly man had turned out to be the most interesting person he'd come across in Kołobrzeg - or at any rate, the most colorful. "I don't know how your story ends."
"We're almost at the end. We sat here, she was hunched over, wasn't answering my questions, until suddenly she saw somebody, laughed out loud and jumped up from her seat. 'Thank-you very much,' she said, and left. It just seemed strange that..."
"That I couldn't see anyone around. At the time, at least. And I got the impression that she was talking to herself as she left, gesticulating, like she'd lost her mind. And she faded slowly into the receding alleyway. Until she altogether vanished."
Hubert Radwan was now silent. Nor did Grzegorz respond. What's more: he tried not to think about anything, in case the old man could hear his thoughts like they were spoken out loud. So they just warmed themselves for a moment in the afternoon sun.
"Grzegorz... Do you know what we have there before us?"
"A bindaż. A kind of shelter made of trees and metal netting, by the alleyway. That one's from before the war. The gardener Martens might even have planted it there. The netting's gone, as are parts of the wood. The rest is growing all twisted, because it was trimmed long ago and bound so that it would bend over the crossing, and that's how it stayed. Half a century ago, maybe longer, Kołobrzeg's most elegant health resort patients would stroll down this way. She went off with one of them."
Grzegorz gave a lazy smile.
"That's nice," he mumbled, not opening his eyes.
"Would you like to see them?"
"Who?" For a moment they measured each other up like two conspirators, like a tempter and his victim.
"You see," responded Hubert at last, turning his face back towards the sun. He closed his eyelids. "It's all about a certain kind of technique for living in the moment. You're always staying, if you'll forgive me for saying so, on the surface. You don't slip about on it like most people, you've gone a bit beneath, that's very good, but only one or two feet. The current is always sweeping you about. Meanwhile, if you go in a bit deeper, you'll start to feel like a whole person, you'll feel like a master of yourself here, on this very bench, you'll be fully in this moment, on all its levels, and you'll devote none of yourself to recalling or planning something... to fantasies..."
Once more a silence fell. Grzegorz Jodłowski thought for an instant about the night to come in the studio, and he suddenly felt a delightful calm. He had once tried to really make something of himself, when coming to Kołobrzeg was another item to put on his cv, then he shook with impatience, like an engine on high revolutions - whose clutch suddenly flew off when he got anxious about being stuck here. The words Hubert was conjuring allowed him to think of the barren course life had been taking as though it was an extraordinary opportunity that he had never recognized. He felt with astonishment how his muscles were relaxing, though he hadn't realized that they were tense. So he didn't give a hasty response like "What about it?" - he just sat there calmly. He waited.
"That's it, you've almost got it," he heard himself praised. "If you weren't nagged by the thought that you were taking too much of a liking to the pensioner sitting next to you, this would be a fine beginning. There are enough people who stick to life in the present moment. They're pushing themselves towards something, struggling to get somewhere, devotedly carrying out their roles, without a word. But your vocation, if I may be permitted to use such an old-fashioned word, is elsewhere."
A married couple with a baby carriage was coming towards them from the port. Grzegorz followed them with his gaze from under a pair of lazy eyelids.
"And so when you feel this moment with the whole of your body, you stop the thoughts that are escaping from you like ectoplasm, or the flagella of amoebae, the thoughts heading towards the past and towards the future... Then, paradoxically, the space you've filled will open up to everything that has ever happened here or will happen. And then you'll be able to see these things. Brave Nettelbeck, who by the way once lay in his grave directly behind our backs. The first health resort patients. The pre-war vacationers. At first you'll only see vague outlines. Something like an overexposed photograph. A thickening of the air that could be easily overlooked. Scraps of fog. A presence."
"And you see them?" Grzegorz became conscious that in his tone of voice there was more interest than disbelief. Hubert perhaps heard this too, because he smiled wider than he had before and laid a hand on his arm.
"You could be my son. Shall we speak more familiarly?" And when the reporter thought "why not?" after a moment's hesitation, he nodded his head. "Yes, Grzegorz, my dear gardener, I see them. It's a question of practice. But if you heard them without any training, why shouldn't you start seeing them too, after some time?"
Jodłowski opened his eyes and took a good, hard look down the alleyway, between the trees. It was empty, of course.
"How do you know all this?" he asked.
Hubert leaned his hands on his cane and rocked his whole body, as if to check if all his bones were in place. It looked as if he were considering his response, but Grzegorz couldn't hear his thoughts.
"You really haven't ever had anything extraordinary happen to you in your life?" he finally replied, and then got up. "Time to go. We'll meet again in a few days. Thank you for wanting to visit me."
Translated by Soren Gauger