A Review of Nick Sweeney’s Laikonik Express

The Book

If Jesus ever came here, it was to be tempted by the devil that time. I happen to think, however, that Jesus kept the idea of this place to Himself just so He could maintain the fiction that Hell was a different place altogether and not to be found on this globe at all. (The opening words of Don Darius’ novel found within Nick Sweeney’s novel)

Everyone knows a book unshared will poison you. Darius writes the fatal book and then attempts to leave it orphaned while he races North from Istanbul to outrun the truth, and truth reveals us all to be slaves. Historically, enslavement originates in race, religion, or culture. It’s also true that no people have escaped slavery. The truth of enslavement was to claw wealth or labor. Don’s unnamed masterpiece discloses that slavery persists as materialism.

One thing I guess I like about the Arabs, in fact, maybe the only thing, is the way they make it clear how they hold non-Muslims in total contempt. They don’t pussyfoot around pretending they want into our culture. It’s just, “We hate your guts, and in recognition of that, here’s a shitload of dollars…, for teaching us your horrible language.”

The author’s grandfather’s answered to Dariusz. In rejection of neo-slavery, Don flees Istanbul and through time and space to rediscover the locale (Mlava), the saint (“virginal,” unavailable Ola), and the relic (The Venerable Snickers) of his past and to reclaim the “Z” lost from his slave name.

The Train

When a lit match falls aboard Einstein’s Laikonik Express, it falls both at a ninety-degree angle and concurrently horizontally into the past. Express destinations are also ahead and in the past. Every locale changes meanwhile at laser speed. On the train, Christmas travels straight ahead until February. Only the passengers momentarily pause in time. One pilgrim sports a hair knot opportuning “a housing project facelift,” perhaps traveling at the speed of light bolted her age in one moment. A tiny Bulgarian woman, it may have been a requirement of her billet, evolves into hand luggage for the journey. Over branch lines, across spurs, the train chugs into Ostrava and Gdynia. All important Mlava goes unnoticed. Regrets are left behind in Novy Sad. An important but absent passenger will “pull her t-shirt over her head and … smell of fresh leaves, taste of ginger and aniseed.” Boxcars fill with frozen tears for winter Abel or hot summer saline flowing back toward the Marmara Sea.

The Search

I learned English,’ the man repeated. ‘However, I have listened to you gentlemen throughout this journey.’ He made a pause straight out of Stanislavski. ‘And I must say that I can not understand a word you have uttered. Thank you, gentlemen.’

It doesn’t diminish the book to say that it’s uncertain if the book in question is this book or that book. It doesn’t reduce the book, not to know if the love interest pursued is presently unknown or eternally unknowable, a Chinese princess or a blond children’s nurse. Bruno and Guy are said to be the same person on Hitchcock’s train. One willed the murder; the other performed the act. Maybe there is only one book, one station, and one missing lover. Other options could be branch lines off the Laikonik Railroad. It certainly did matter that the falcon under newsworthy facts was lead and not the jewel-encrusted one. That worthless bird was more, not less, “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

The Characters

Speeding north from Istanbul, passengers shapeshift. New identities are distributed as pop culture pops up in a cargo cult late to Stalin-somnolent Poland. Sherlock Holmes appears. Ginger Rogers warbles Pig Latin. Pilgrims emerge from cocoons practicing “…Charlie Chaplin little tramp jaywalks, the inspector doing Ben Turpin as he crossed his eyes and shook a fist at them.” Salinger morphs into Pynchon. A dentist emerges as her own crying patient. In a third-hand transformation, Don and Kennedy become Keats and Shelley, who become Laurel and Hardy. And now comes Buster Keaton and a bar full of pirates. Tinkers to Evers to Chance becomes Yatsek to Jacob to Jack. Most in evidence is that other troop of brigands venturing out of Istanbul in The Falcon of Malta– Spade, Archer destroyed by inscrutable Ola O’Shaunnesy, and ever-practical Caspar Guttman now sitting at his desk in the consulate. They were misinformed, every one. 

Unharnessed Change

-In fact, it’s a pity you’re not going to be here on a Sunday, or you could’ve come along.

-I am so. Kennedy put a question mark into his face. -Today’s Friday. 

-Oh. Yes, you’re right. 


-I lose track of time here, Don claimed. -You’re in Warsaw. Right.

The currency pocketed is never legal tender. If you offer dollars, they need dinars. Your Amex, not accepted, we will need jetons. You will find it impossible to catch up with time-traveling customs. The tourist gets a visa but fails to buy a buy ticket in advance. If you return to Soldau, you’ll find it’s Dzialdowo. If you learn the lyrics, you’ll only lose your religion. La Clemenza di Tito’ “lampoons” toga-ed Animal House. On the journey, bars become cobbler shops in triumphs of neon commercialism. When Don asks for tea, he expects to find it fermented into vodka. Pedestrians are ungendered and without species, “so well wrapped up you could not tell if they were men or women or bears or buffalo.” The sainted Pope becomes a family man.

The people overseas

Don and Kennedy fled Istanbul for points north, not for love as you might suspect. Don escaped Istanbul and his novel earlier and found infatuation on arrival; Kennedy’s “she” is in Cathay of another place and time. They are chasing the leaden falcon, a token of blind hope. Hope is why Don wishes for a girl who understands breakfast; breakfast is the sunrise’s promise for every new day. They join the other incognito refugees, hoping to reach a far-away present before the future cheats them and dismantles it. They are overseas people who only exist by displacement (“If we are not overseas, we have no voice, and without our foreignness, we have no reason to exist”). But the traditional past has already been outstripped. On the Avenue of the Marshalls, an enormous McDonalds is mushrooming. And all the North will lose its sui gener-ousity, like the South, falling to the material West, then succumbing again perhaps to the East. The Wisla, like the Bosphorous, will be choaked with bloated sheep carcasses.

The False Prophet and the True Prophet

Along the way, the pilgrims circle through defeat and victory. A dissertation on disappointment dogma is defended by the doc. He was drawn to them by the dead, the defeatism, and the indecipherable connection of Kennedy’s name with the assassination. The doc responds to banter by saying: Rather yes. I think your humour, whilst being funny, is derivated from bitterness…. You seem to me like a sensualist, a man who seeks only to enjoy what he can enjoy…. Kennedy thinks him kind and accepts criticism with persistent good manners. doc’s gospel preaches: Abandon all joy. 

Counterbalancing the False Prophet is the heroine of Laikonik’s odyssey. Krystyna has suffered a lifetime of transitions waif, wartime refugee, Nazi fighter, scientist, Hero of the Communist State, Polish national treasure, industrialist, curator, and sorceress capable of making a Fial operable. Today, however, she finishes with the past and the future. In her final transmogrification, she first appears like Death in the interminable Ingmar Bergman movie. But she is relentlessly life-affirming.

‘Who’s dying?’ Don appeared big knife in hand making him look like the star of an old-dark-house slasher B-feature. ‘

‘Ah,’ was all he had to say for himself as he got caught in the woman’s stare. 

‘We are,’ Kennedy said. 

…the woman turned back to him and broke out in a little smile. 

Throughout her time on stage, she remains positive, rational, and a champion of youthful love. ‘Mister Kennedy?’ Krystyna was not asking him. ‘I feel as if I am acting in a movie – as if I am a character in a story. Yes.’ She let out a giggle that startled Kennedy and Jack, it was so loud. ‘And it’s a good story.’ 

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