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C hapt e r S e v e n Hotel Victory Once I got to Paris, I acted like a complete idiot. I don’t know why I felt so hopelessly ridiculous and alone. When I walked the streets and looked at all the people sitting in cafés, laughing and drinking, I was sure I cut a miserable figure. Of course, it didn’t even occur to me that I ought to go to some school and start studying French, if only so I could see for myself how I wasn’t the only idiot living in Paris. I used to go to a place called Chez Vania, where Russian taxi drivers would drink Smirnoff and discuss their lost millions. Before taking a shot they’d say, “Eto vse cherez Evreiev.” It’s all because of the Jews. My Polish acquaintances used to ask me, “Have you been to the Louvre yet?” I still haven’t been to the Louvre. After Kultura published my book, Trybuna Ludu printed an article with the headline “Prima Ballerina for a Week.” I won’t quote the whole thing here, but it started like this: “A new name has appeared this week on the list of those connected with the international bandits engaged in weapons smuggling against the communists.” I wrote a letter to the editors at Trybuna Ludu, explaining that since my books had been refused publication in Poland, I had the unqualified right to seek a publisher abroad. Meanwhile, I added, a reader or critic might judge the quality of my work, but not a censor. I asked them to print my letter alongside their own commentary, which I couldn’t have cared less about. They never printed it, of course. Instead, all sorts of journalists showed up at my place. The dumbest ones were from the newspaper Marek Hłasko 161 L’Express. When they asked me what I saw as my role in literature, I answered, to bear witness. They asked what I was bearing witness to, and I said, I’m a witness in the trial against humanity. They asked if I had any intention of returning to Poland. Of course, I said: I wasn’t so stupid as to deprive myself of the opportunity to see the only sort of thing I know how to write about—crime, despair, etc. In the next issue they really dug into my writing. One columnist wrote that while he valued my lyrical pessimism very highly, everything I said was untrue : before the war, Poles had emigrated for better wages, and today that’s not the case at all. I was reminded of those glass wardrobe doors. There’s no point in writing, I told the journalists. They asked if it was possible we’d truly understand each other one day. Soviet tanks on the streets of Paris, I said, would give us that common ground and plenty of time to talk about it, too. In prison, it’s true, you work from morning until evening, but at night there’s time to chat. This was after the speech Khrushchev delivered at the Twentieth Congress. A few intellectuals left the Communist Party in France and Italy, but in the final calculation, Khrushchev obviously came out on top. His declaration and promise of de-Stalinization convinced people there was a possibility of change for the better. The principle remained the same, but the execution had been poor, that was all. In his speech, Khrushchev built up a credit of renewed trust toward the Eastern Bloc, the price of which was a few dozen embittered Western communists. The subsequent incidents in Poznan and Budapest didn’t erode the trust. Quite the opposite: in some ways, they strengthened it, because on the surface, life couldn’t have been so terrible if people had the courage to assert their rights. But people who’d escaped from behind the Iron Curtain told us it was really untenable . Even the supplications of the unfortunate prime minister of Hungary, who asked that nobody interfere with his execution since it exclusively concerned the people of Hungary, didn’t arouse anger at and disbelief in the conditions in the Soviet Union. I was able to think and write about all this once I was already on the other side, and these were my first impressions in the West. I stumbled into a terrible period: France, the object of admiration by Poles, a symbol of freedom and democracy, was going through...


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