The novel explores the experience of being an immigrant and the experience of keeping secrets. I could feel some weird, kind of analogous connection between the two. Immigrants rarely get to take everything they would like with them. Secrets are like junctions where certain things are left behind. I found it was also a story about the different kinds of love there are; each type Josek, the protagonist experiences is associated with a different female character in a different time-frame.
The story concerns Josek, a well-respected and established Polish businessman in a London suburb in 2013. He has spent his life working to become a model of respectability.
Like all of us he carries secrets: the truth about his miserable childhood under the tyranny of Babba Matka, his abusive aunt; an affair with an underage girl in the 1980s. These are gradually revealed to the reader in chapters which rotate between Poland in 1963, London in 1983 and 2013.
The story is told from Josek’s point of view and as the story unfolds the reader becomes aware that Josek has “edited out” from his remembrances much of what really happened. It becomes apparent that his affair with the teenage girl involved a physical assault. This key revelation occurs when the girl, Selina, returns thirty years after the event to confront Josek. She gives him her diary from the time, which enlightens him and the reader.
This is the catalyst for Josek’s exposure and he loses his standing in the community. In putting things right he and has to confront his own secrets and redefine what makes a respected family man – and whether that is even still something he wants to be.
Three women are key in his journey: his Polish wife Perl, Selina, and childhood friend Maria. Symbolic objects also represent the women in the story, which ends back in Poland in 2014.