Kazimierz Brandys: Rondo

March 10, 2014

9781609450045It took me a long time to finish this book; it didn’t grip me deeply enough to pursue it non-stop, but it fascinated me enough to want to finish it; certainly I didn’t want to give it up. And I still can’t work out what to make of it, or exactly what the writer was trying to achieve, though I found it a good book in the end. It seemed to me to fit in with the rather understated approach and message I’ve often found in Polish writers.

It’s set in Warsaw in the 1930s to 1950s, so against the background of political unrest, dictatorship, the Nazi occupation and Soviet takeover; it’s about an ordinary man who seems to lead an ordinary life, so none of these major historical events is foregrounded in the narrative; all are there and inevitable, but in an understated way. So, for example, I’ve never come across the Nazi occupation of Poland treated in such a low-key manner.

The hero, a drifting student, becomes gradually involved with the world of the theatre, and this becomes one of the novel’s major ideas: the world of pretence and make-believe, where nothing is quite what it seems, and Brandys is suggesting that life is often like this; throughout the novel the author reflects on life and human behaviour. The hero becomes involved in a complex love affair, and eventually ends up inventing a resistance organisation in which he can involve his lover, thus keeping her safe from the dangers of ‘real’ resistance to the Nazis. Except, of course, all this slips beyond his control.

The chronology of the novel, its time scheme, is confusing, with the narrator moving back and forth, and often making assumptions of his reader; thus one can also easily become a little confused with the characters and their significance to the plot; I got a sense of the narrator narrating in order to make sense of his life, and realised early on that to make full sense of the novel, it would need a re-reading…

Occasionally I have come across other books which do this to me; I’m sure I shall continue mulling it over in the coming days; it isn’t an ‘ordinary’ book and was worth the effort and eyeball time, even though I’m not yet sure what I’ve got from it…


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