Polished black Polish

A brilliant piece of Polish-Jewish noir

By Jenni Frazer, November 9, 2012

A Grain of Truth/ By Zygmunt Miloszewski/ Bitter lemon Press, £8.99

After Scandinavian noir and Finnish noir, we now have Polish noir. Or, should I say, Polish-Jewish noir.
For Zygmunt Miloszewski’s terrific A Grain of Truth (Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99) examines the fraught relations between Poles and Jews, 70 years after the country’s Jews were destroyed by the Holocaust.

James Callaghan’s telling phrase, “a lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on” would certainly apply to the goings-on in the Polish backwater town of Sandomierz.

Teodor Szacki, the gloriously miserable prosecutor hero, is faced with a series of murders which look at first sight as though they are the work of frustrated Jews — despite the fact that there are no longer any Jews in the town.

Szacki is obliged to demolish a series of antisemitic canards, each more preposterous than the next, finally taking advice from a young rabbi in Lublin.

Miloszewski has a high time matching his Eeyore-ish anti-hero to several rapacious women in Sandomierz. In small towns, he tells us, everyone knows everyone else’s business. But, outside the comedy, the writer is at the top of his game, cleverly weaving in a Hebrew clue — containing a deliberate error — near the end of the thriller.

The “Grain of Truth” refers to the many myths that surround the place of Jews in present-day Polish culture. Miloszewski’s book is a small gem.

Jenni Frazer

Last updated: 1:08pm, November 9 2012