Obituary:Julian Stryjkowski

Julian Stryjkowski was one of the more interesting as well as one of the more controversial of Polish 20th-century novelists. He is unfortunately not yet translated into English (with the one exception of The Inn, 1966), and therefore not so well-known to the English-speaking world as other Polish writers such as Witold Gombrowicz, Bruno Schulz, Zbigniew Herbert, Czeslaw Milosz, and Tadeusz Konwicki. He was never an open critic of the Communist regime, and thus did not attract the Western approbation frequently afforded to dissident and emigre writers regardless of their literary ability.

His controversial past ensured that Stryjkowski remained a lonely figure though recent publicity surrounding his novel Silence (1993), in which he openly declared his homosexuality for the first time at the age of 88, provoked discussion of his other themes - his Jewish heritage and his one-time deep commitment to Communism - and helped to establish him as an important literary figure. Many of his novels, published originally in the Fifties and early Sixties, have been recently republished.

Stryjkowski was born Stark and took his later name from the small provincial town of Stryj in Eastern Galicia, then in the Austrian-ruled section of partitioned Poland, where he grew up in a shtetl (an exclusively Jewish community), as the son of a Jewish schoolteacher. Although Stryjkowski claimed never to have been a believer, he was nevertheless deeply influenced by the enclosed, traditional, intensely religious atmosphere of the shtetl. During his teenage years he immersed himself in the study of Hebrew and became a committed follower of Zionism, a creed which he was soon to abandon but later re-embraced following his disillusionment with Communism during the 1950s.

In 1932 he completed a degree in Polish literature at the University of Lwow (now Lviv) and became a grammar-school teacher in the town of Plock. He joined the Communist Party of the Western Ukraine and was imprisoned for his party activities during 1935-36 by the inter-war Polish government. When war broke out in 1939 he was living in Warsaw but returned to Lviv, where he was employed by the Polish Communist daily the Red Standard. When the Germans reached Lviv he moved to Moscow, remaining there until 1946, and then returned to Poland, by then a Communist satellite state.

From 1946 to 1952 he worked for the Polish Press Agency, and from 1954 was for many years a member of the editorial board of the leading literary monthly Tworczosc. His disillusionment with Communism was gradual. A severe blow to his loyalty had been the execution of Rudolf Slansky, former General Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, in November 1952, for allegedly being a Zionist, but it was not until the expulsion of the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski from the Polish party in 1966 that he finally gave up his own membership.

Stryjkowski's involvement with Communism, especially during the war years, led to his being badgered in recent interviews into justifying his former behaviour and loyalties; he tended to fudge the issue by claiming that he always regarded himself as "a writer, not a hero" and that his former ideological blindness was no more reprehensible than that of many other people. In an interview with the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza in 1994 he also strongly suggested that his lifelong suppression of his homosexuality fundamentally impaired his ability to be free and open regarding any moral issue that touched him personally.

It is therefore noteworthy that the area which occupied Stryjkowski most in his novels was that of personal moral responsibility and the threats made to an individual's conscience by the pressures of the real world and especially by the dilemmas forced upon individual human beings by historical and cultural change. His characters' need for a strong moral and cultural orientation is deeply interlinked with his Jewish background, the only experience in his life with which he consistently identified. His best works portray Jewish themes. His first novel Voices in the Darkness (written in 1943-46 in Moscow and published in 1956) depicts the tragic frustration experienced by an orthodox believer faced with modern cultural and social changes which he cannot accept but to which his close family and fellow villagers succumb. Later novels portraying Jewish themes include The Inn, Azril's Dream (1975), The Stranger from Narbanne (1988) and Echo (1978). Meanwhile other novels, Great Terror (1979) and its sequel, The Same, but Otherwise (1990), are largely autobiographical; in the first of these he portrays his experiences as a Communist in wartime Lviv.

As portraits of Jewish life in Poland, Stryjkowski's works stand comparison with those of both Bruno Schulz and of Isaac Bashevis Singer, but what makes him unique is the combination of a first-hand knowledge of shtetl life with a personal involvement with Communism.

Ursula Phillips

Julian Stark (Julian Stryjkowski), writer: born Stryj, Poland 27 April 1905; died Warsaw 8 August 1996.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable