The Breaking of Eggs is a novel by Jim Powell, set in the present day but recounting historical events during World War II and what followed in Germany, notably Berlin, and the raising (1961) and destruction of the Berlin Wall (1989).
I wanted to share this reading experience, as it correlates with my interest in 1940s social culture as well as the events of World War II (1939-1945). This book encompasses a very moving fictional tale, that could well be the reality for many people of a certain age for whom Judasism or Poland is their provenance.
The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin until November 1989.
The Eastern Bloc claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany. In practice, in reality, the Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection that marked Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period.
Feliks. A Polish man living in Paris, having spent his entire life working and ‘escaping’ his own feelings, is about to retire. Feeling unwell and not having anyone to look after him, his landlady quite innocently remarks that he should be slowing up at his age. The thought of retirement sets Feliks off on a journey into the past, a past that he has constructed for himself in the absence of his mother and brother, and the country he was born in.
The ‘breaking of eggs’ is something that happens to Feliks on this journey. We are regaled with not only his physical journey to America where he meets his brother, and then to Poland where he faces for the first time, the death of his absent mother, but in her absence there is a letter, a history, a past told to him through her own words. By this letter, all of Feliks’ ‘eggs‘ start to break open and with it, the deconstruction of his imagined past. For anyone who has ever experienced the deconstruction of their long held belief system, this is a very poignant and thought evoking theme throughout the book.
We take a historical journey into pre-war Poland, to the rise of the fascists and the Nazi party. Through this letter, we live the first segragation of Jews and the first ’rounding up’ and shipment to camps. We re-live the anguish of his mother, her truth, her despair at parting with her sons to her sister in Switzerland. We live the tearing apart of a family by religion and politics. We see the critical moment in Feliks’ life, the juncture at which his life could have taken a very different path, one where he had a wife and family, and how this moment of decision was ripped from him in 1961 by the raising of the Berlin wall. We witness the moment that his heart and mind rupture, the rise of emotion and physical consequences.
‘But perhaps the choices that are not made, the options that are not taken, are as revealing as the ones that are.’
This is a reoccuring theme throughout the book. We are continuously directed back to the choices Feliks has made, and more notably, his decisions to not do something; a passive approach to his life, loves and personal politics.
His lone approach to living, his ‘leftist’ attitude to politics as opposed to Communism, his tendency to make himself believe that things don’t matter rather than face up to the truth, his suppressing of faith and belief that truth has only one facet. These are all the things that come crumbling down around him. From this point of despair, Feliks starts to rebuild himself, and reconstruct his memories and feelings of those who mean the most to him.
‘Normally I did not enquire too much into people’s lives. I preferred to to discuss ideas.’
This reveals to the reader the depth to which Feliks has concealed his emotions. By keeping discussions to ideology, namely politics, Feliks has been able to avoid his past, and any emotion that other people’s lives may evoke within him.
Life Magazine Communism 1961
‘It was necessary…to be selective about the past’
Again, Feliks has hand-picked his beliefs to suit his emotionless lifestyle.
Warsaw 1943 Jews being led to Deportation site
This is a fascinating book, not only through the emotions, the turmoil and the tumultuous journey that this man faces up to, but also the use of language, the evocative historical foundations that it is based upon, and of course the politics and religion. Go read…
Feliks does not embrace change – in fact, it makes him most uncomfortable. But as he’s reunited with a brother that he hasn’t seen since his childhood and comes face-to-face with the love he let slip through his fingers, Feliks has to face up to the possibility that the convictions he has based his life upon were nothing but smoke and mirrors. Soon his carefully constructed world is tumbling round his ears and Feliks wonders: is there such a thing as a second chance for someone like him?