Solitary travelling in remote places can be dangerous, particularly for a woman. But what is the alternative? Stay at home and never go anywhere? ‘It’s that thought,’ writes journalist and traveller Rosita Boland, ‘the one of involuntary stasis, that has always filled me with genuine fear.’
In Ann Quin’s fictional world acts of finality or resolution repeatedly come undone. A dead bird is buried and then dug up. Plans of escape are formulated and then abandoned. A corpse is disposed of and returns. Tissues of falsehood are constructed and destroyed. Business is always left unfinished.
Indeed, what we have in Lubiewo is a panorama of Poland in years of great turmoil without the stock heroic underground opposition and the stock brutal militia officer. Witkowski’s characters are unheroic, unengaged, unpolitical. For Lukrecja and Patrycja the barracks where Soviet soldiers are stationed (on Polish soil!) are an opportunity, not a symbol of oppression.
In a sense, most of the old guard never fully understood, and certainly never accepted the consequences of, the process they had initiated. If they had, they would have released control of the Workers Party with good grace to De Rossa and the new guard. By not only attempting to hold onto power but reactivating IRA structures in order to do so they ensured both sides lost out in the long term.
As settlers and administrators spread into the region, the world ended for countless indigenous communities in unreported acts of violence. Vast slave kingdoms were established. The legendary Colonel Fawcett remembered: “The atrocities on the Putumayo in Peru, disclosed by Sir Roger Casement, were only a fraction of the terrible story. Slavery bloodshed and vice reigned supreme on the rivers, and there was no halt to it until the bottom fell out of the rubber market.”
Future breakthroughs may reveal that Einstein and his theories of relativity are not entirely correct and like Newton’s theories merely an approximation of nature. To quote Newton again: “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Central to Alice Munroe’s aesthetic is the device, though it is really much more than a device, of jumping back and forward in time, enabling readers to hold multiple strands of the narrative in their consciousness, creating cross-sections of event and feeling that allow for rich expression of pathos and irony.
In March 1870 Solano López was finally hunted down in the Paraguayan wilderness of Cerro Corá and killed by a Brazilian soldier. Panchito died with him and Lynch buried them both with her bare hands before being escorted first to Buenos Aires, then to Montevideo, from where she boarded the Royal Mail packet City of Limerick, which brought her back to Europe, fifteen momentous years after the start of her South American sojourn.
The Saxon churches no longer have parishioners and there is not a whisper of German to be heard in the schools, since their pupils and teachers vanished altogether twenty years ago. The prolonged death agony of this community, which started with World War II, ceased abruptly during the early nineties, right after the fall of communism. A single year was all it took to end eight hundred years of history.