A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator)

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A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator)

Miloszewski Grain.jpg
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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: George Care
Reviewed by George Care
Summary: It is spring 2009, and prosecutor Szacki is no longer working in Warsaw — he has said goodbye to his family and to his career in the capital and moved to Sandomierz, a picturesque town full of churches and museums. Hoping to start a 'brave new life', Szacki instead finds himself investigating a strange murder case in surroundings both alien and unfriendly.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 378 Date: September 2012
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1908524027

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State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki is attempting to recover from a broken marriage and has left Warsaw. He is prone to cheerless thoughts especially if deprived of his soothing iced tea. It is the very start of spring in the legendary and magical Polish town of Sandomierz on the banks of the Vistula. Szacki, who does not like to be bored, is soon preoccupied in solving a ghastly murder that has been staged in the style of a Jewish ritual and this particular city is notorious for ancient, tense and deep rooted relations between Catholics and Jews. To solve this crime Szacki will need to delve into the murky history of occupation; Nazis, Communists and patriots. He will also need to face his own self-doubts. He must search for 'A Grain of Truth' under the critical gaze of local citizens enflamed by press paranoia.

Szacki feels rootless and alienated investigating the small crimes associated with a nearby bazaar run by some dubious Russians. His confusion is unrelieved by his feckless involvement with his demanding young mistress. Then the naked body, throat slashed appears close to an old Synagogue, in a ravine beneath the medieval walls of Sandomierz. The plaster white body is still recognizable to Prosecutor Szacki's colleagues.

The once attractive victim is well known for her exemplary good works and was the wife of a prominent and ambitious local politician. Szacki is faced with a perplexing crime and the discovery of a terrifying instrument of ritual slaughter unsettles him still further. What has driven the murder to create such a fanciful crime? The situation is not eased by the difficult relationship that Teodor Szacki has with his female boss.

If you can keep pace with some of the unusual Polish names, Miloszewski provides an intriguing wealth of characters including his suspicious older side-kick Wilczur with his disconcerting habit of tearing filters off cigarettes and his buxom fellow Prosecutor Basia Sobieraj with whom he develops a less than professional relationship. Then there is the eccentric Rabbi Zygmunt Maciejewski who quotes a Jewish saying; half the truth is a whole lie. These impressive characters move along an engaging and varied story.

The narrative provides an instructive update on many aspects of modern Polish society including devout Catholicism, local politics, the Polish legal system, the painful deprivations of the recent past and historical hatreds that underlie contemporary attitudes. Miloszewski, recently a journalist and editor for the Polish edition of Newsweek has been nominated for this novel for several international prizes and two of his recent books turned into successful films. This is, in fact, the second case for Szacki.

It is worth comparing State Prosecutor Szacki with Andrea Camilleri's fictional detective Inspector Montalbano whose Sicilian investigations in Vigàta, an imaginary Sicilian town have recently graced our television screens. Both seem fractious characters with a taste for fine food and attractive women, and both are dealing with endemic corruption in some form which includes the press and media. However, Zygmunt Miloszewski is the more developed, varied and literary novelist. This is conveyed in the quality of the writing, especially in the use of A Grain of Truth as a leitmotiv where it variously represents, grappling with the dark history of the Polish past, Szacki's attempts to be honest with himself and in the end the truth even in legend, as Miloszewski puts it about the brave Colonel Skopenko about whom he writes, 'He couldn't imagine anyone seeing the city from this perspective and then giving an order for artillery fire. It was beautiful, the most beautiful city in Poland, it was Italian, European, not Polish, it was a place you wanted to fall in love with at first sight, settle in and never leave.' Truth like faith, the size of a mustard seed, enables Szacki to penetrate and uproot the criminal.

There are several other interesting aspects to Zygmunt Miloszewski's writing but these are best sampled and evaluated by reading this challenging novel for yourself. I highly recommend it and look forward to the translation of his next novel.

Much obliged to Bitter Lemon Press for providing the review copy.

Further reading recommendations:

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

Finding Poland by Matthew Kelly

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Buy A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator) at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator) at Amazon.com.

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