Kozłowski tells the story of a young Polish army doctor whose life is changed forever by a single, mysterious event: the disappearance, in April 1940, of 4,000 of his comrades from a Soviet interrogation camp in Starobelsk, Ukraine. Exiled in post-war London, Kozłowski builds a new life, working to convince himself that the past cannot affect him. In reality, the past is the only place he longs to be. As the silence surrounding his lost comrades deepens, his attempts to submerge his feelings threaten to destroy him.
A novel about loss, memory and guilt, written in sparse and elegant prose.
Caroline Wyatt reviews KOZŁOWSKI
by Jane Rogoyska
At the end of the SecondWorld War, a Polish army doctor, Zbigniew Kozłowski, known
as Zbyszek, docks at Southampton, one of the many demobbed soldiers looking for a
new life. Like many of his Polish comrades, Zbyszek speaks little English, has no friends
But the young Kozłowski is not only a good man but also a good doctor. Although he
finds it hard to make the small talk that life in England demands, medicine proves his
salvation – as it was during the war itself.
Gradually, we discover where Kozłowski’s wartime journey has taken him: meshed in
Persia (Iran) in 1942, Quizil Rabat in Iraq in 1943, and by 1944 in Montecassino in Italy,
patching together the torn bodies of his men as they fight for the Allies with a sense of
shared purpose: ‘with the trials of battle comes the joy of brotherhood and
But in grey post-war London, where Kozłowski settles, he begins the life of an exile, an
émigré – silently missing lovely Warsaw, ‘ruined now, shattered, flattened and dark’. He
can no longer return home, yet has no roots in this strange, new land.
Kozłowski’s comrades in arms, as close to him as brothers, are gone. His brothers and
his sister Gosia are dead, too. Yet he survives. Why him, and not them? ‘If he is to go on
then, why not let it be in this vast, indifferent city?’ But even as he makes that choice, the
diligent young doctor remains haunted by his wartime memories.
Kozłowski does his best to place the past out of reach, to submerge it in work and sleep.
He falls in love, marries, has children. He avoids his fellow Poles in their émigré haunts
in Earl’s Court and South Kensington. For a short while, the past steps aside ‘in favour of
love, hope and a new life’.
But then it returns. In March 1952, he hears that a US committee is being formed to
investigate the massacre of Polish officers by the NKVD (later the KGB) at Katyń. The
committee will come to London to take evidence, and Kozłowski is invited.
Even in a century marked by slaughter, Stalin’