Although he has set the action of this novel in Gdańsk, in the first years of this century, Stefan Chwin does not adhere to reality or trouble himself with verisimilitude. The Golden Pelican could easily be mistaken for a realistic novel of manners about how a certain serious law-school lecturer becomes a beggar and experiences the darkest sides of reality. In fact, Chwin's ambitions are much greater. He has created a contemporary tale, a kind of legend modelled on the medieval fable of St. Alexey. Thus it is that Jakub, the main protagonist of the parable, becomes convinced that, as a result of a mistake he made during the entrance examinations, a female student failed and committed suicide. Although this event is only a supposition by the oversensitive Jakub, it torments him and changes his life into a nightmare. The downfall of the noble-minded professor is only a narrative device, since everything that is most important in this book is of a discursive and reflective nature. The moral condition of contemporary man is what truly interests Chwin. He asks what has become of the soul of man today—his religiousness, sense of responsibility, and conscience. A voice of protest, impossible to ignore, rings out from the book—a protest against a world without God, love, or sensitivity. Not for a long time has there been such a "hot" novel in Polish literature. The sharp edge of the sword is aimed at a reality—hardly an exclusively Polish one!—in which "Three Kings by the name of Guerlain, Kenzo, and Lagerfeld" come to us bearing glad tidings.
A comforting light filled the soul. At last! What a relief after so many nightmares!
He dreamed that he had just made the poster for Milos Forman's film The People vs. Larry Flynt—a beautiful youth crucified on a woman's naked loins—and, proud of his work, grinning, bubbling like Italian spumante, was accepting congratulations from famous actresses and shovelling mint-crisp Euro banknotes into the hands of the effusively joyous Janka, when all of a sudden the slender hostess, as lovely as Pamela Anderson in Baywatch, handed him a telegram with a decorative letterhead informing him that Cardinal Ratzinger himself had officially filed charges against him with the prosecutor's office for "offending religious sensibilities", and demanding that Jakub apologise to the People. "The words of Jesus," wrote the Cardinal, "are often shockingly harsh and formulated with no regard at all for diplomatic niceties. At the same time, the experience of Divine Ire has been entirely lost in our times, and the conviction that God will condemn no one has become universal among Christians. The thesis that each may save himself in his own way is in essence a cynical view in which I discern contempt for the issue of truth and an authentic ethos."
Jakub's heart froze. He raced forthwith to the court, taking the stairs up to the third floor five at a time, submitted self-incriminating depositions, and took fright because the death penalty had still not been abolished; the good-looking woman judge in a raspberry-coloured two-piece suit sentenced him to sing the national anthem three times over and, when he immediately sang the anthem, accused him additionally of designing an advertising poster for Benetton depicting a priest kissing a nun.
Thus were all hopes of a presidential pardon dashed!
Jakub burst out crying. There was no consoling him. In the courtroom, filled by a standing-room-only, multicoloured crowd, someone shouted: "More sex and liberty, but without Solidarity!" The President of the United States, who had appeared to cry "Peace! Freedom!" from the balcony for special guests, was inviting everyone to an "exhibition of pastry products with an extended shelf life". But when a skinny Arab in a turban issues a fatwa against him, the delighted audience began clapping their hands. A tempest of applause! Jakub looked out of the window. On the far side of the street, he saw Lenin in a polo shirt, walking towards the West and pushing a wire-mesh handcart full of Eastern European tourist merchandise. At the sight of Jakub in the courtroom window, the leader of the Soviet imperium waved his hand, like an old friend! Jakub froze in terror. How could he now prove to the Gauck Commission that he had not worked for the Stasi?
A grey-haired old man moved from a corner of the courtroom to stand in front of the tribunal bench and growl through his shrivelled lips: "People today have been left defenceless against New Age-ism, feminism, deconstructionism, and nihilism. They have lost their way in an intellectual second-hand bazaar. We are dealing with something that, in the language of our epoch, is defined by the terms 'the Death of God', 'the end of the absolute', and, as a logical consequence, is also called 'the annihilation of the subject', 'the disappearance of man', and the 'resignation from humanism'. This contemporary crisis has been triggered by the humanisation of the image of God in the likeness of and for the use of man. The modern God is a 'human' God, inclined to compromise, the kind of God with whom you can negotiate more than a few concessions. What we need is a return to an 'inhuman' God who will measure us miserable beings by his just yardstick, knocking the pride and pomposity out of us. This sort of demand upsets the dogmatic aunties of the revolution, and also the long outmoded godfathers of that form of terror that goes by the innocent name of political correctness!"
"Miserable being!" the crowd filling the courtroom shouted at Jakub. "On your knees! Now the inhuman God will judge you!"
The Archangel Michael flew out of Memling's famous painting and quickly set up his great iron scales in the middle of the courtroom. Then he took Jakub, frail as a withered leek, by the hair and threw him on to the right-hand scale, which rose up as if it were empty. 'Delete him! Delete him!' cried the crowd. 'Give us Barabbas and Star Wars!" The Archangel Michael raised his sword, Jakub hunched his head down into his shoulders and closed his eyes, and then—what was this? "He's mine, all mine!" Danuśka threw her white scarf over his head. "Cardinal," this Miss Wet T-Shirt winner said to Cardinal Ratzinger, "through him flows the stream of the beautiful, although he himself is not the beautiful!" "Ah, Madame," the Cardinal bowed, "please forgive me for not fully embracing the spirit of the Second Vatican Council!" "You're free, free!" Danuśka cried to Jakub, who was being doused with water to revive him. All rose. Flowers and the highest state distinctions were carried in. The entire courtroom began singing Don't Cry For Me, Argentina. "Our fatherland is free, free!" cried Danuśka, "and so I cast the cloak of Konrad off my shoulders!" and began to disrobe.
"I feel," someone whispered to Jakub, who had come to his senses, "that people are internally subjugated and fear politics, sex, and religion. Above all, they fear the Church." "In pain will you bear children," someone cried from the depths of the courtroom. "That is the penalty for original sin!" "That's a patriarchal superstition," replied women's voices from the back rows. "We must destroy the trade in women's bodies under the patronage of the Church! Hands off our wombs! Copernicus was a woman!" "Can I make the parliament building with all its contents disappear?" asked the famous magician David Copperfield, whose romance with supermodel Claudia Schiffer had delighted millions of women all around the world.
The crowd went wild with joy.
Translated by William Brand