Igor Ostachowicz (born 1968) graduated in international relations. He has worked as a paramedic at the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, as a manager at a number of companies, and for the past few years as a civil servant. At present he is secretary of state in the Polish Prime Minister’s office, where he writes the Prime Minister’s speeches and acts as his adviser and public relations manager.
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Noc żywych Źydów (Night of the Living Jews), WAB, 2013
Night of the Living Jews deserves attention for at least several reasons. Above all Ostachowicz has succeeded in giving a literary reworking to a topic that is important for the Polish collective imagination, and to tell a story which has demanded to be told for years. Here we see Warsaw, which was razed to the ground during the Second World War, as a wild, dormant graveyard, where the people killed at the time have suddenly materialised as phantoms. Here we have face-to-face encounters between the living and the not-living. Who is really at home in Warsaw, in Poland – a place branded by genocide? This novel, excellently written in a shocking, unsettlingly “inappropriate” genre, seeks the answers. The piquant, comical style of pop-culture horror fiction would seem at odds with the topic of the Holocaust. Even the title, paraphrasing a classic horror film, by juxtaposing the word “Dead” and the word “Jew”, may cause concern.
An avalanche of events is set off by an amulet – a silver heart stolen from the Jews – whose possessor is guaranteed success. The main character, who as the action develops will become more and more like a comic super-hero trying to save the world from annihilation, lives with his girlfriend in the Warsaw district of Muranów, which is built on top of the ruins of the ghetto. One day, through an open trapdoor in the cellar, out come… deceased Jews in tattered coats. Gradually it turns out their favourite way of spending their time is in Arkadia, the nearby shopping mall.
And yet Night of the Living Jews is a very well thought-out, mature piece of writing. Ostachowicz lucidly explains the principles of the world he has created. The Arkadia shopping mall, a place of non-stop happiness thoroughly sustained by trade turnover, gets mixed up with the Muranów district’s ghost world. The commonly held, though locally taboo truth about an alien threat that hovers around the modernised, Europeanised Warsaw city centre actually becomes reality. The idea of writing the novel in the style of horror is both lyrical and strikingly apt, dictated by historic facts. The Jewish history of non-existence has to be completed through menace, through the materialisation of things nobody wants to know about or remember. The way in which the main character becomes aware of this process (and also of the power symbolised by the amulet) forms the profound, intriguing drama of the novel.