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Lies by Eva Stachniak
Eva Stachniak's book Necessary Lies is a book whose main character is mostly based on the author's own biography. He book is about life in Poland in communist times, the cultural shock encountered by an immigrant to Canada from a communist country, a destroyed marriage as a consequence of the estrangement of the spouses, love and betrayal. Up to a point, the book is dealing with the difficulties every immigrant encounters when moving form Europe to North America, or even from a country to a different country from the same continent. The protagonist here is just carrying the burden of twenty-eight years of living in communist Poland, until she immigrated to Canada in 1981.
The main character in Necessary Lies left Poland the year following the workers strike that led to the formation of the Independent Self-Governing Union Solidarnosc, under Lech Walesa's leadership.
From the moment she set foot in Canada, in 1981, Anna became a spectator to the events that would give her countrymen hope and take it away from them again, all in less than a decade, until finally, in 1989, by a peaceful regime change, Poland gained its freedom and started working on a democratic way of governing again.
The story moves forward in time, beginning with Anna reading newspapers in a cafe in Montreal and thinking of the striking differences between the dark grey colors she left behind in Wroklaw and the bright colors and sparkle everything appeared to be in the Canadian city, by contrast.
Poland after the World War Two came out ravaged, deeply scared, changed in shape, with territorial losses in the east and gains in the north and west and with most of its ethnic minorities gone. All the Europeean countries involved in the war had suffered great losses and a great deal of destruction, but Poland was left with a capital city almost entirely destroyed and the rest of it severely reduced to a state that was barely able to live. The new north-west border included territories previously German. The east boarder with the Soviet Union moved toward the west to make place for them to be taken by the U.S.S.R. "After 1945 most of the "eastern" Poles were forced to resettle into the present area of Poland and especially into its new western territories which in turn had been cut off from the "old" Germany: Silesia, Pomerania, southern parts of East Prussia (Mazury Lakes) were cleansed ethnically in a similar way like "old" Poland, and the German majority was driven out to the present Germany. It is assessed that one third of all inhabitants of the pre-war Poland were subject to resettlement during or after the war. Most of the cities were almost completely destroyed (Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdansk, Szczecin) either by Nazi army or during the liberation by the Red Army" (http://www.staypoland.com/history-map.htm) A Poland under Soviet influence started to heal its wounds and cope with the new communist regime.
The Polish people could not rest easy and watch how a foreign regime was imposing its rules in a country that was supposedly "independent." The Soviets got a strong grip on Poland and they were willing to keep it that way no matter what. The years that followed were marked by uprisings in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. Anna recounts these revolts briefly while she is reading the newspapers in Montreal only to conclude bitterly that all those efforts and manifestations were annihilated by the strong and merciless Soviet boot that wanted and knew no compromise.
Anna recollects the moment she met her husband, Piotr, while in high school and the author uses the opportunity pass over some of the crucial moment in recent Polish history. The reader is reminded that she lived in a former German city that used to be called Breslau where the Nazi army fought till its last breath, even more fierce, in the Soviet's opinion than they had fought for Berlin. The young inexperienced group of high school boys and girls that Anna was a part of were naively hoping to make things change. In their opinion, they were not breaking the law, on the contrary, they were merely pointing to the fact that the very law was broken when their liberties were restrained through censorship. Through this group of rebel youth, Anna meets Piotr, her future husband who is a few years older.
The experiences of the young people are more or less the same everywhere, regardless of the regime in their countries. People fall in love for the first time, kiss and make love for the first time all over the world. Young restless feverish minds discuss literature and arts, philosophy and Politics, express beliefs and try to hide insecurities, argue and make up. The high school girl Anna and the student Piotr were living a love story in a communist city. The differences compared to those who were going through similar experiences were unimportant at that moment: they stole a couple of hours in a room in the college dorm that Piotr shared with another three of his colleagues. The bed was narrow, the blanket usually dark grey or blue and rough to the skin. But they were too young and too much in love to notice anything. They were happy and happiness at that age is a universal thing. It has not yet started to be gain different layers according to the material aspirations of those who grew up from the idealist age and wanted more. But, reality could not disappear for too long even for two souls in love. The concrete: lines for food, milicja stopping one in the middle of the street and asking for documents, beating people up in the middle of the street just because they were students, her grandmother, unable to cope with the fact that she was removed from her native place and brought out to live in a strange city that once belonged to the Germans, a city she never assimilated as her own or not even as Polish.
Manipulation of the masses through propaganda, that was the thing authoritarian regimes got good at. Piotr, Anna's future husband, is joining the Warshaw students in their protests only to loose another battle against the unjust. The workers got in the trap of propaganda and were convinced by the government forces that those ungrateful and spoiled young men and women were just intellectuals wannabes that plaid with fire, fueled by their parent's financial support and that from the generous father state. The author makes a very good point here. Those who never lived in such a regime or those who experienced a life with the constraints and censorship of a communist or totalitarian regime are both able to understand how a government could manipulate people against people, using the simple rule of: divide and conquer as its main tool. Earlier in her story about her romantic encounters with Piotr, she recounts how he brought her books: "The Plague, Caligula, The Trial, tyranny and evil exposed, observed, stripped by its disguises. Then he gave her the Parisian edition of Arthur Koestler's Memoirs and Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind, so that she would understand the power of propaganda, the temptations of betrayal" (Necessary Lies, p. 15).
The Soviets had lent the Polish government their knowledge of know how to brake the spirit of those who were tied to their piece of land, to their culture and their beliefs. Uprooted Polish peasants were forcefully brought to the city and made to become workers in factories overnight. Villages were destroyed and industrial, graceless, dark cities grew up in their places. The change was not the consequence of a regular development stage from agrarian societies to industrialized ones. There was no free market and the industrial production was arbitrary and subject to the will of some people who did not have the preparation of the skills to manage a factory, not to mention the entire national production. It is thus easier to understand how disoriented, uprooted people were more controllable and easily influenced by heavy propaganda. The very fact that they had to stay in line for their daily bread, were not permitted to attend theater plays or read books or go to the movies if the censors found them in any way in contradiction to the present day regime's ideology made the mission of brain washing that much easier. The communist Polish government had not invented these practices, they were just applying what the Soviets were generously passing onto them and what their neighbors, the Germans successfully practiced in Nazi Germany. The collectivization of the farms and the nationalization of the big factories helped destroy the rest of what remained from the peasant dignity. The new class of workers was supposed to be free of the backward thinking of the countryside and the city was also expected to offer those peasants the chance to socially advance and maybe someday send their children to the…[continue]
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Also, Anna finds more lies as she analyses William's past, concluding that lies play a vital role in people's lives. The fact that even William's mother had to lie relating to her son's real father convinces Anna to think less about William's life. Ursula having similar beliefs to Anna contributes to them wanting to find out more about William's past, and, to try to understand it. When finally deciding to