The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Set in a Polish village at the time of the collapse of communism, In The Memory Of The Forest is a novel about a community struggling with the burden of everything it would rather forget: the Jews who were rounded up and sent to Treblinka to be gassed; the betrayals made by partisans fighting against the Nazis; the surveillance of ordinary people under the communist regime; and the everyday compromises that were necessary for survival in the face of enduring hardship. It’s a book, above all else, about resilience.
The story begins with the body of a young man, Tomek, discovered in a clearing in the forest, his head brutally stoved in. A kind of literary detective story, it follows the attempts of his school friend, Lesczek, to understand how Tomek came to meet such a fate. In the process Lesczek picks at a thread of criminality that causes the whole buried history of the village to unravel.
The physical and emotional landscape of newly-post-Communist Poland is evoked with astonishing clarity by Charles Powers’ beautifully turned prose. The character of the village, surrounded by ancient woodland, peopled by individuals who have been shaped into stubborn patterns of wordless defiance through grinding poverty and a system that took no account of the individual; the anarchic effect of the newly-released market forces upon the towns and cities – all of this is rendered with extraordinary solidity and vividness.