cover image In the Memory of the Forest

In the Memory of the Forest

Charles T. Powers. Scribner Book Company, $22.5 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83030-8

A searching exploration of the social, moral and personal impact of communism's collapse in Poland, this dramatic novel is all the more remarkable because its author is not a Pole but the former Eastern European bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Powers's only novel (he died in October, at age 53) is a fiercely lyrical tale, set mostly in a Polish village where Leszek Maleszewski, a farmer in his mid-20s, goes sleuthing after a friend is found murdered in a forest. The trail leads to Warsaw, then back to the village's distillery and to Roman Jablonski, formerly a Communist Party bureaucrat and now part of the old guard determined to keep its power and privilege while Lech Walesa cozies up to George Bush. As Leszek uncovers a cesspool of graft, black-market profiteering and gun smuggling to Russia, he also delves into his village's, and Poland's, unspoken history-the trauma of the German occupation, centuries-old anti-Semitism and complicity in the Holocaust. Powers skillfully evokes the widespread aura of cynical disillusionment and paranoia in a country where an informer can be the next-door neighbor or even the relative sitting across the kitchen table. Two extramarital affairs-bachelor Leszek's obsessive love for a drunken veterinarian's wife, and the town mayor's tawdry romance with his secretary-thread through the narrative in parallel, accentuating the sense of moral drift so prevalent in this moving and intense work. (Mar.)