Like his previous works of literature, Michał Głowiński’s fourth book, The Story of a Single Poplar, takes the form of a memoir. The author goes back to the scene of his childhood, the Small Town (he has removed its name), somewhere not far from Warsaw. However, the hero of the memoirs is not Głowiński, but the world he remembers, the people, things and activities of his childhood. He draws them from everyday life, and thus he recalls his parents’ friends and neighbours, a tree that grew under the window, walking to school, and the household laundry. All this is quite firmly set in its historical context – just before the Holocaust, after the war, and in socialist Poland. Here Głowiński is apparently conducting his own, private and small-scale, but still important skirmishes with history. Firstly he contrasts the Holocaust, which was supposed to be the ultimate end, with the continuing stories of people and things, taking their history beyond the limits of the war. Secondly, in depriving millions of people of their life, History took away the credibility of epic forms that cover daily life and inheritance over many generations, such as the family saga; to counteract this ending he employs one of the few forms possible – representation of the individual. These stories are numerous, disjointed, separate, and devoid of drama, but by that token they are true to normal life, which only leaves faint tracks in history, whose authenticity is confirmed by memory.
And that is another theme of the book. The Story of a Single Poplar often reflects on the way memory works, its lack of perfection, its tendency to have gaps, and the unpredictability of its leaps and sudden stops. The memory is activated by random stimuli, but the strongest aids are reading matter and conversation. Here Głowiński seems to be suggesting that every single person’s memory is like a great book, where despite the ravages of history, much is preserved, but where at the same time, despite our illusions, not everything is preserved.