Wednesday, 31 March 2010

In memory of the forest

This doesn’t appear to be a well known book, a quick glance at the various book blogs I read and I can’t find any mention of it and there are only two Shelfari reviews (well now three)
I ordered this book from Amazon after someone mentioned it briefly on a book forum a good few months ago. I picked it up the other day to read without really knowing anything about it.

Set in a small village called Jadowia in eastern Poland a young man is found dead in the surrounding forest with his skull smashed in, after the woefully inadequate village policeman finds no leads his friend Leszek (a small farmer) decides to make his own enquires.
This book is set around the time after the fall of the iron curtain, the Russians now have no influence and the country is struggling to leave the old communist system behind. The village life here is bleak, there appears to be a serious drinking problem within the men in the village and the younger generation are continuously moving away leaving an aging population with corrupt officials in charge. So this appears to be a standard crime thriller involving dodgy Russians amidst village life right?

Well no, because within this village are some dark secrets which make the murder of the young man pale into significance.
Things start to happen in the village, stones in people’s house foundations start to go missing as well as damage to their front doors, someone has stolen a few headstones from the old Jewish cemetery and why does Leszek’s grandpa keep secretly building a fence for which they have no need?

We then find out that 80% of the village population used to be Jewish and during the war they were firstly kept captive in the village by the Germans before being forced on a train journey. We have a village which went from being a dominantly Jewish town to one without a single Jew. What’s also chilling is that the younger generation have no idea this has happen to their village as there is no evidence at all there was ever a big population of Jews living here. The Synagogue has long been burnt down and the local priest only manages to find the old Jewish cemetery after looking at some old pre-war maps, these people have been forgotten completely.

What did I think?

This is not an easy book to get into, you have a huge array of characters all of whom are given some kind of back story and the chapters alternate between being told in 3rd person to being told in the 1st by Leszek, plus add the fact that all of the characters have hard to pronounce Polish names and you can forgive me for thinking this was going to be a hard read.

But it isn’t at all. The above synopsis I have given is incredibly small and does not do justice to the amount of character stories and different threads this book contains. This is a rich book with many layers with seemingly disconnected paths which makes a good read until you come to the last 50 pages when suddenly the book gives you an emotional wallop making this a GREAT read.

This book is about many many things, the fall of communism in Poland, the mundane day to day life in an eastern polish village and memories. The holocaust in this book is not told from the Jewish or German perceptive but from the very people who were forced to watch as this happened in their very village leaving an immense and irretrievable absence. It is about their guilt that they should have done more or in some cases may have contributed to it and how ultimately the horrors of this time are why the Jews of Jadowia have been forgotten. But despite this the book leaves you with a great feeling of hope, hopeful towards the future.

Unfortunately the author died soon after writing this book and as this was his first there are no other books written by this author. Sometimes people say that ‘everyone has a book in them’ and WOW what a book.

Verdict 5/5
Posted by Jess


  1. This sounds very good and I think I will definitely read it. I went to Poland and Germany two years ago on a choir trip, so it will be interesting to "go back" via this book.

  2. Great review! Is the content very graphic. I'm such a visual reader, it doesn't take much to transport me to another time and place :)

  3. No I wouldnt say the book was overly visual. There are no endless paragraphs describing the forest for example (that would have driven me mad) The author gives visual describtions if its needed but puts more focus on the people rather than the landscape

  4. Wow, thanks for bringing this to my attention Jessica, it sounds wonderful and is going on my wish list!