Exercises in Loss

Book Institute, Poland

This story really happened: Agata Tuszyńska's book is a profoundly moving document of the sickness and death of her husband. One writes such works with some wariness: should such an intimate experience be so soon revealed before the eyes of the literature-reading public, something so horrible as to be inaccessible to someone from the outside? The author shares the response to these questions with her precursors, a response which is seemingly banal: Write about it, because you are a writer! This reflects the conviction that a writer is someone whose duty it is to put extreme situations on display, and to clothe them in words.
This description of Henryk Dasko's mortal illness is thus a book written for those who will one day find themselves a part of such events, whether as the victim of the disease or one of the victim's nearest and dearest. It is a guidebook through hell, and simultaneously a call to pick up your weapons and fight, to battle for every additional week and month of life. One might ask: does this make any sense, given that the fight is a hopeless one, and lingering on with the disease is asking for suffering and humiliation. To this question the author responds ambiguously, in a very personal fashion. Her view is: you have to fight against everything, even if it means standing up against suggestions made by medical statistics and doctors' experience. This is less about extending life by a few more days than the attempt to close it in a way that is as full and reasonable as possible (Henryk's trip to Poland on the day before his death is insane from the doctor's point of view, but reasonable as a closure to a life). The love story also requires closure, a story which is complete only when it passes through the greatest of trials and which demands the most extreme devotion.
One more thing, Henryk Dasko was a Polish Jew, who was exiled from the country after March 1968. He considered this exile to be his life's greatest tragedy, apart from his fatal disease. Through all his ordeals and sufferings we can observe how Polish culture and literature were incredibly dear to him, how the landscapes and friends of his youth were important to him, how reciting Polish poetry kept his spirits up when he was depressed. This book is thus a subtle, but extraordinarily powerful act of condemnation against those who caused the last great exodus of the Jews from Poland.

Jerzy Jarzębski