My father once told me that our history is like a force behind us, pushing us along, unacknowledged or even unknown, but dictating the way we live our lives.
In the Memory of the Forest by Charles T. Powers is set in a small Polish town fifty miles east of Warsaw in the early 1990s. Communism is being dismantled. Free-market capitalism lets rip.
The body of a young man, Tomek Powierza, is found in the forest, victim of foul play. The police chief is incompetent. Other officials hamper Tomek’s father, Staszek’s, attempts to investigate. His neighbour, the young farmer Leszek Maleszewski, helps him. They discover murky business deals with Russian gangs, in which Tomek was involved, deals conducted by ex-Communist officials, hanging on to any kind of power in the new world order.
Meanwhile other forces are at work. Church authorities allocate elderly Father Tadeusz a fierce new curate, who leads a campaign to purge the town leadership of its Communist stain. But such purification is not so simple. Young Father Jerzy uncovers evidence that a previous incumbent had a fine new rectory built with the Party’s help, but finds that the Bishopric is less impressed by his zeal than he had expected.
Leszek’s investigation into Tomek’s death threatens the local Party head, who retaliates with names from the town’s extensive list of informers: they include not only Leszek’s own father, but also the vet with whose wife he is conducting a naïve, first-love affair. She tells Leszek, ‘It’s worse since the changes. Karol said it would be this way. He’s right. It’s just as rotten. Only now we have the privilege of smelling it.’
Then people discover in the mornings that stones have been dug out from the foundations of their barns and outbuildings. They begin to ask, ‘Are they coming back?’
‘Who are they?’ Leszek wonders. ‘The Jews,’ he is told. He learns for the first time that once many J
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