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 Rafał, the hero of Wyrok (The Verdict), is a psychologist who does not particularly believe in his patients or himself. Abandoned by woman after woman, permitting his patients to become disillusioned, observing in stupefaction the medical surroundings of the hospital, tainted with bribery, and the churlish, callous indifference of those around him, Rafał becomes enmeshed in a depressing real-life noose, permitting his fears and phantoms to get an ever stronger grip on him. It is only sometimes that the reproachful expression of Freud on a photograph kept in his office tears him away from this state of mind. But because it is only a photograph it is easy enough to look away and to pretend not to notice those reproachful eyes. The change only takes place when Rafał is diagnosed with cancer and suddenly stops being a psychotherapist and becomes a patient. Now everything looks different. The hospital, previously his place of work and a deceptive semblance of everyday stability, now becomes alien and unfriendly, full of fears, where even the shadows of window frames prostrate themselves and form ominously looking crosses on the floor as though spectres of coming death. The doctors, once his colleagues, now his enemies, whisper deceitfully behind his back. The other patients, previously ignored, are now his companions in suffering. Doctors repeat to him the same words of comfort which he himself had once spoken to his own patients. But now they do not sound so comforting. For a change the psychotherapist himself would like to hear someone saying “I’ll take this fear away from you”. This jumble of fear, the awaiting of death, anger at the corrupt medical practitioners, the many phantoms and periods of solitude give rise to mutiny. Rafał, the mutineer, is now the avenger who, reminiscent of movie stars, literally takes bloody revenge on the doctors who in his eyes are nothing less than prevaricators. Rafał’s act is therefore a punishment, an act of vengeance for the remaining patients, for those suffering. The verdict referred to in the title not only confirms the terminal illness which brands the hero. It is also a fruit which evokes a new calling, born out of the rebellion against one’s hitherto existence.

Agnieszka Gibas

 

 

 

 

Don Quixote à rebours

 

Paweł Daniel Zalewski’s Wyrok (The Verdict) is a “fallen” novel, though it sometimes falls like the archetypal hourglass or Hrabal’s drunkard… Or it falls off the horse like Don Quixote and calls for vengeance.

But Zalewski’s code of knighthood is not the same as that of Cervantes. For Zalewski’s knight-errant this code means the Hippocratic Oath. It is from here – I believe – that the anti-hero’s road to putting the world in order starts: to restoring the sanctity of his calling. But in this case there’s nothing to laugh about. Rafał – the Knight of the Wistful Countenance – is a psychologist, an idealist wandering about the hospital corridors, amongst patients fighting for their lives and doctors juggling with their fate. His illness brings him catharsis. But did Don Quixote really get well? One can confirm that because the imaginary world stops existing. He has lost his Rocinante, but instead of a copy, a shield and basinet he has a submachine gun… The curtains of real life have opened. The target can be seen, a mission, a role to be met on the real-life stage of the hospital. But this target is no longer honourable and the ends do not justify the means.

An interesting literary concept is back-to-front approach, thanks to which Zalewski cleverly manipulates the plot. In his novel not only Opak (back-to-front) becomes back-to-front: the punishment meted out by Rafał could have been perfidious and sublime, but it turns out to be – quite perversely – a simple, sensational surgical purge.

I recommend this book as a good modern version of “tilting at windmills”. Don Quixote Zalewski has come out victorious – as opposed to Alonso Quixano – for which he paid the highest price. In The Verdict the verdicts divide and multiply – that’s what I liked the most.

Jolanta Szymska-Wiercioch

Cracow, 30 September 2007

 

 

 

 

I’ll be brief, without any empty phrases. Wyrok (The Verdict) reads brilliantly. I read it almost as soon as I got your e-mail. Brilliant technique, quite well constructed characters. That can be said particularly of the supporting characters: Szupryś, Warzybok and even Emilka.
The linguistic mix of styles is really convincing. That really does make an impression.

But I must say quite openly that I was disappointed with the main character and the way he solves his problems. Rafał is stigmatised by misfortune. His terrible experiences have made him what he himself actually consented to by not giving himself the opportunity to develop. His attitude to life is: waiting and no real in-depth perception. He lives for himself but next to himself. He fails to see people though he decides to work as a psychotherapist. His choice of profession is more the need of solving his own problems than the will to help others. After all, Warzybok is good at exposing him. But that’s not the problem with the novel.

Characters such as Rafał have every right to function in their own way. However, the barren and inactive (for most of his life) character of Rafał has placed the novel on a single track. Maybe it would not have been so distracting had the Verdict been written in the first person. That would have permitted it to be seen as a literary confession. But in this case we have to listen to the all-knowing narrator! Why is it that the narrator is so one-sided in viewing the world!

Paweł, maybe your novel will set the cat among the pigeons. Maybe it will lead to discussion. After all, it does touch on topics which are close to all of us.

Beata Rudzińska

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