The protagonist of Dorota Terakowska's nove The Loneliness of the Gods is named Jon. The reader meets him as a twelve-year-old boy who lives in a settlement in the forest during the conversion of the pagan tribes to Christianity. Jon's tribe lives its everyday life in the split between fear of the old idols and love for the new God of Mercy. Jon earns the by-name "Jon on tl- e Road" - but what road is meant?|
Having accepted Jon's invitation to join him, the reader knows only where this Road begins. On the other side of the river, in the forest. But even crossing the river in these parts involves breaking a taboo, to which the reader agrees along with Jon.
On the other side, the Stone Road leads us to the Nameless One, to Swiatowid, who has been "called into existence by thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people over many centuries." His time has come to an irrevocable end; and the new time that has arrived, called civilization, is to be a better one. What does this civilization bring with it? Let's look ahead with Jon, to where the dying God's eyes are directed - and each time we will see a different world.
The green world of an operating room - probably somewhere in the here and now. Jon, an eminent surgeon, performs routine surgery a heart transplant. Lying in the sterile box, however, is a surprise from the "Snow Queen" - the heart of a murderer - and after the operation the boy turns into a murderer, too. Jon wants to help him, and in the end he does help him, but pays high price with his own life. In another world, we meet with Jon a simple village woman (Jeanne d'Arc), whom we will later run into again on the scaffold. It's too late for Jon to save her from being executed, but he does save her from oblivion by giving her a drop of the Water of life.
"This is not the Water of life as we know it, but of life after life. You will die, but the memory of you will live on. A very long time. Forever, For centuries," Jon realizes that his "civilization" brings with it things as savage as executions. "Executions are inimical to God. Inimical to all Gods that ever have existed or will exist."
In order to accompany the old nameless God on his last journey, in order to fulfill his mission, Jon abandons his wife and child. He dies at the moment his son is born. A demanding read that puts us in touch with general European history; for readers who aren't looking for easy answers, and don't like pictures drawn in black and white.
The Loneliness of the Gods
The rumble of the drums went on picking up tempo until it sounded like the hooves of a thousand horses pounding
at a gallop down the Stone Road. Jon came upon that Road, on the other side of the river, by accident, but before he had gone a dozen steps, he was stopped by the voice of the shaman. Old and hunchbacked, the shaman was standing right at the edge of the intersection of the trails from the Village. He was invisible to the boy, and yet the boy heard his clear, distinct call: "Jon! Turn back! Taboo!"
Jon did not have to obey the shaman. The authority of the shamans had formally ended and everyone in the Tribe had fallen in love with another God, who was referred to most often as the God of Goodness. He did not need the tribal magicians, for the new rituals were conducted by priests who had come from the Far Country. The God of Goodness had now prevailed for almost one and a half hundred years. And yet, when the former shaman died, the Tribe elected a successor - and the priests pretended not to see. The shamans clearly served the former, rejected gods - the "idols," as the younger priest stubbornly referred to them - but the shamans also protected the Village from the vengeance of the old gods, and cured people's illnesses. The priests, as opposed to the shamans, knew writing, never gave in to superstition, and were the bearers - Jon loved the
word - of Civilization. However, they did not know how to deal with the old gods and their vengeful natures, or with
the illnesses that the people of the Tribe suffered from. There were even those who whispered that some of the illnesses, formerly unknown in the Village, had been brought from various Far Countries and from beyond the sea by none other than the people in the long robes. The shamans learned how to cure these new diseases, but it took them many years to discover which herbs were truly effective, and which ones needed to be raised by crossing different plants with the help of entirely new spells. Before they learned this, many people from the Tribe died of strange, unknown illnesses. And it was no longer the shaman, in his ritual dress and terrifying mask, who conducted their final journey. This role had been assumed by the new priests, who did not even ask whether or not the dying wanted to go to the new Country that they were being led to. It seemed that the priests knew more than the Tribe about what was good for the people of the Wilderness, and what served Civilization.
The priests therefore continued to tolerate the existence of the fast shaman (once, there had been many of them). The priests pretended not to notice him, and they permitted, at times, the ritual drumming during the old festivals. The onty thing they would not permit was bloody sacrifices to the gods. The Old Gods had needed the sacrifices, but the God of Goodness not only did not accept them, but condemned
them. So far.
Today was the Night of the Old Gods, or rather of the most important of them, who was never mentioned by name in order that he could be forgotten him more quickly and easily. That was why the drums began beating their rhythm right after dusk. By the time darkness fell, the rhythm was maddeningly swift, and the drummers were wet with sweat. The sweat ran down their naked bodies. Great drops fell to the earth, and soaked into it - like a conciliatory offering from the Tribe to the rejected and now nameless God. The drumming lasted almost half as long as a day, but the priests hid in the temple and pretended not to hear.
Translated by William Brand