I never saw the play, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book The Tailor of Inverness. The universal is found in the particular story of one Polish immigrant to Scotland. Matthew Zajac recounts what he thought he knew about his father and his discovery of an even more complicated truth as he travels back to Poland and Ukraine. It’s remarkably honest and thus all the more moving in its redemptive conclusion.
Post-Brexit , Zajac’s story of how one family endured the tumult of war and political wrangling outside their control felt relevant. The war is still not that far from where we sit now. In some of the darkest moments of Nazism and Stalinism that Zajac delves into, the very existence of an EU appears miraculous. Also apt are Zajac’s reflections on the casual anti-Semitism he encountered during his travels.
A few passages I underlined:
[on visiting Birkenau] Members of my own species had done this and because of this stark fact, I was tainted, responsible. Every living, mature human being is responsible. Perhaps this is the real meaning of what I have always considered to be the most evil, objectionable Christian concept, that of original sin. Maybe this really refers to the fact that we humans are capable of terrible acts and this has been distorted into the idea that we are guilty from birth.
Through history, particularly during the 19th century partitions, some Polish artists, theologians and philosophers have equated Poland’s suffering with Christ’s, propagating the idea that Poland is Christ. The crucifixion has become a national symbol. Poland has been crucified, and has risen from the dead, though this new land of cars building sites and advertising hoardings can hardly be described as heaven.
As we read the play, Misha became restless. He seemed tired and jaded, harder, and burdened by his grim experience… I think he found our enterprise an indulgence, perceiving us then as a group of comfortable middle-class Brits pontificating about a war we knew little about, wringing our hands from a safe distance and the comfort of our kitchens.
In 1984, one couldn’t escape the fact that they served two opposing ideologies, that they represented the architectural apogees of the two versions of contemporary German society. Alongside the buildings, the centre of East Berlin was decorated with socialist murals and slogans, West Berlin was decorated with the neon signs of multinational corporations, crowing from the top of its skyscrapers. It all seemed designed to make the individual feel small, insignificant in the face of such powerful organised forces.