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Retirement Home for War Heroes, Warsaw

Maya Feldman On:

Retirement Home for War Heroes, Warsaw by Itamar Orlev

What sort of a father is Stefan? An all-powerful, legendary hero or a damaging, destructive man? In the first meeting between the father and son – depicted here in a chapter taken from the beautiful novel Bandit, which won its author, Itamar Orlev, the 2015 Sapir Prize – the tension that binds the reader to the story, leaving him unable to put it down, is revealed at once. The son, who had not seen his father in over twenty years, comes to meet him, now old, and tells him that he himself has become a father. But what sort of fatherhood can the young father learn from the old one? What primeval power does the father Stefan hold over his son Tadek, who is forced to grow up by his wife and son though still something of a child himself? In this encounter at a retirement home in Warsaw, which is narrated delicately and with a unique storytelling talent, numerable strings are woven between the old man in the bed and the young man sitting next to it, repeatedly tightening and loosening. The stuffy density of the room, clouded by cigarette smoke and alcohol vapours, further accentuates the tension in the air. “Did you kill many?” the son asks the father, and the little room is filled at once with the mythical overshadow of slaying: Has the son now finally come to kill the father? The readers follow the two as they stage the oldest scene in the world, while this question remains stuck in their throat, skilfully disrupting their enchantment with the writer’s wonderful storytelling.   

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