Julek is literally a child of the Revolution. After the Polish Communist Party decides in 1929 that Comrade Helena Rappaport may indeed carry her baby to term, but not raise him, Julek begins his journey from family to family, relatives to strangers, boarding school to summer camp, Poland to France to the USSR and back, all the while telling his story with humor, irony, and wry honesty. He grows up with different sets of parents, lives his formative elementary school years in a Communist orphanage in France, where he pulls pranks and gets into scrapes like any eager young school boy. When he is called back to be with his mother in Paris during the German occupation, he adds the job “secret agent to the Resistance” to his already long and varied resume.
Not a sad tale at all, Julek’s story (based on a true story of the author’s father) is a lesson in resilience and optimism. Armed with biting—but never painful—sarcasm and the ability to see the humor in most things, he makes his way gracefully though both his unstable life and this volatile period in the 20th century, allowing the observer to view events with his childish innocence, even while that innocence is being swept away.
Revolution Baby was obviously written with a passion that can only come from a personal connection to the story. The language in this wonderful piece of literary fiction (in its translation at least) hits the mark: clear and descriptive, never too wordy, dry, or dull. If you are seeking a page-turning summer read, I can’t say this is for you, as there is much to digest between the sentences. It is best taken slowly, savoring the innuendos and subtle political barbs along with Julek’s extraordinary adventures. Recommended.
From the HNS November issue. Revolution Baby, by Alison Anderson (trans.), Joanna Gruda, Europa Editions, 2014, $16, 236pp, 9781609451981