Twenty years after the turn of the century, we find a chaotic world. Emigrants are flooding over borders, and interrogation cum body searches are conducted at every legal crossing. The needy consider any wealth ill-gotten; capitalists are costumed as devils if they have not made devils of themselves. Prejudice is common as wariness of cultural difference. A plague rages. Eastern Europe wobbles under the threat of a Russian rampage, and wars erupt like brush fires. Justice has devolved into a matter of personal ethics- or an ethical void.
You might think this litany of horrors is too ordinary to be newsworthy. It’s not news, but history retold in fiction. This is the mirror that Nick Sweeney holds up for our reflection in “The Emigré Engineer.” Let’s “game” the dialog and insert accusations that satisfy our sensibilities:
-“You’re a [insert an authoritative title]?” the [insert the media editorialist of your choice] checked.
– “No, sir,” Witold answered and then was asked his name. He gave it.
– “Hmmm.” The answer seemed to satisfy the man in some way. ” A [insert an environmental slur] then,” he commented neutrally. Then he demanded, ” A [member of a political party]?”
Under the promise of new Russian egalitarianism, a lover of life, another regular Uncle Joe (this one mustachioed), offered better times after the end of horrible old Vlad Ilyich.
New ethics invented or discovered by Nietzsche, Marx, and Darwin escaped the old imperialism, traveling by bicycle across Europe and the Atlantic until they found a new imperialism. Across the sea, the understudy Bolsheviks are tomato-toting union organizers, and wealth redistribution enacts through insurance fraud. “Justice” once administered via a tsarist Nagant, now has different targets but the same deadly results. Justice becomes more facile with each execution. A compromised social welfare system becomes the benefice of extortionist priests.
The characters and the plot of “The Emigré Engineer” may remind you of Roddy Doyle’s series of novels about Henry Smart. I hope that Witold Galitzki has an extended literary life too. I would like to know more about Witold’s evolution (or devolution depending upon how you filled in the blanks) into Dirty Harry (or Capt. Wm. Lynch). I’d also like to read more about morally flexible Fr. Ignatz Vishnevski and the Widow Charleroi. There is much more story to be doled out from the 65 episodes of this story. Each is like a diamond from Galitzki’s canvas cache.
“The Emigré Engineer” is found in Ploughshares at Emerson College, Fall 2021. Ladette Randolph edits the publication.