Rage, by the highly-rated Zygmunt Miłoszewski, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, was published in the original Polish as Gniew in 2014. The third in a loose trilogy of crime procedurals featuring State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki, Rage follows Entanglement/Uwikłanie (2010/2007) and A Grain of Truth/Ziarno Prawdy (2012/2011) in examining aspects of contemporary Polish society – respectively Poland’s Communist past and Polish-Jewish relations. Both earlier novels were made info feature films, A Grain of Truth more successfully, in an excellent adaptation with screenplay by Miłoszewski, directed by Borys Lankosz and starring Robert Wieckiewicz. In a Q&A following a screening of the film at the Play Poland festival in 2015, director Lankosz confirmed that he was working on an adaptation of Rage, with the author again writing the screenplay.
In Zielony Balonik we read and enjoyed A Grain of Truth some years ago, finding it to be skilfully plotted, full of well-drawn characters, with strong topographical and political detail, as befits an author whose first trade was journalism. Consequently, we are looking forward to reading and discussing Rage, the final case featuring Prosecutor Szacki, this time set in Olsztyn (the first novel was set in Warsaw, the second in Sandomierz) and focussing on the difficult subject of domestic violence.
Zielony Balonik book club notes:
Rage/Gniew by Zygmunt Miłoszewski provoked a lively, though not angry discussion. Some loved the book, others appreciated it as a skilful piece of genre writing. Was it a bit didactic – trying to teach Poles their history? Was it pretentious, self-indulgent, too long? Had Miłoszewski, on this third book, simply got bored with his main protagonist, Procurator Szacki? Was he just trying to stick issues, in this case domestic violence, on to the novel, rather than integrating them into the characterisation and the plot. How about the translation? Should the title really be anger, not rage, furia and not gniew? We agreed that rage is instantaneous and impulsive whereas anger is an emotion, a slow simmering that smoulders through the book, (like the Olsztyn drizzle) although when Szacki commits the final (surprising? uncharacteristic? plot-driven?) crime, he is acting out of rage, not anger. However, he has been irritable and full of anger, as his daughter noted, right through the book, and this anger finally erupts into rage and leads him to commit murder.
Does the author actually like Olszstyn, despite its depressing weather, with its eleven lakes, no thirteen but two are too small, raising philosophical questions eg when is does a pile of sand stop being a pile of sand if sufficient grains are taken away? How tall is a “tall dwarf”? So, when is a lake not a lake and the 13 shrink to 11?
Whatever the answers, it was all up for grabs! With all these questions, ideas and opinions buzzing around we enjoyed a stimulating discussion, with lots of laughter and an appreciation of a gripping read, an engrossing narrative that “pulled us along” and took us right into the heart of Olsztyn in a dreich November, with drizzle, chill, mist and lengthy traffic jams.
This third book was judged to be not the best one in the series. We came up with many weak points: the characters speak in the same voice, the book has unsavoury episodes, especially the skin-stripped corpse and we agreed that the weakest, puzzling and least engaging part was the ending which remained as unclear as the view of Olsztyn through a misted up wind-screen. There was a lack of clarity and a definite lack of response on Szacki’s part when his daughter was kidnapped. Out of his desire to solve the crime he delayed in her rescue instead of bringing all the resources of the Olsztyn police out to look for her. The use of madness was misplaced and unsatisfactory, adding to the distance we felt in the finale. Further questions were: What happened to the abused woman who’d been left to die abut had been taken to hospital? What happened to her child? Was there a conspiracy? Which other characters could have been involved? What was Dr Zemsta’s back story?
And yes, those names! Jagiełło, Falk, Frankenstein, Jan Paweł Bierut!!!!! Was Miłoszewski just having fun? Or was this a bit of self-indulgent satire? Would younger readers in Poland know who Beirut was?
Which took us back to the English translation, which we all agreed was well done. We felt that it was very clever and appropriate to call Sister Lucja Faustina, Maria Magdalena and we noted the Americanisms, the temperature in Fahrenheit, expressions like Mom, Momma, fell on his butt… It was noted that in an interview the author had said that different translations had produced different reactions in the readership. For example in France readers had picked up the dark mood of the story while readers of the English version had praised Antonia Lloyd Jones for the way her translation had brought out the humour of the text. We loved the phrase “an alligator in a velvet suit.”
Some of us liked the news extracts and weather forecast at the chapter headings and felt it gave the book immediacy and took us into the world Miłoszewski was representing, others felt that this was superfluous and had been imposed on the text, like the newspaper accounts of domestic violence. Taking the three books as a whole, it was felt that Szacki doesn’t develop as a character, but simply switches from one location – and one woman – to another. He doesn’t experience life as a continuous whole, but as an episodic scenario. However, we realised that the nature of his job meant that he had to confront horrible things on a daily basis and the book showed us how the different characters coped with this by either being detached or, in Szacki’s case, depressed and increasingly haunted, indeed contaminated. The townscape well reflected his mood – foggy, with no clear view ahead and endlessly stuck in traffic jams so you couldn’t move ahead or take a different turning. Indeed, we came up with a diagnosis: dysthymia, a long-term chronic depression that results in permanent tiredness and makes it hard to maintain relationships.
Finally, we agreed that the author shows us not just Olsztyn at a bleak time of year with the ghosts of its German past, but also Poland itself. People feel manipulated and always suspicious, always physically and metaphorically looking over your shoulder and, just as in Ireland, as it was pointed out, you don’t answer the door without asking who’s there, there is a lot of ugliness – and yet something that tugs at all our hearts.
And keeps us reading Polish literature!!!!!