Julian Barnes at the NYRB:
There is much slowness in The Crime and the Silence, Anna Bikont’s magisterial investigation into a small massacre of Jews in the town of Jedwabne in northeastern Poland in July 1941. Part of this is authorial: the necessarily slow steps toward as much irrefutable truth as can be possibly found this far after the event. Part of it is lectoral: her text is dense with names—some of them confusingly similar, yet whose owners had diametrically opposed destinies—with places and details to remember, and several overlapping timescales. But there is also a slowness imposed on the reader by the dreadfulness of the subject matter. In January 2004, Bikont showed her typescript to Jacek Kuroń, the “theorist of Solidarity,” then in the last months of his life. His response was apparently discouraging:
“I don’t know how many people will read this,” he worries. “Theoretically I was prepared for the whole thing, you’d already told me so much about it, but even so I had to stop reading every several dozen pages, so hard did I find it.”
Even those who come at the book from a historical and geographical distance will be obliged to pace themselves. It is not just a question of taking in individual spasms of bestial cruelty. It is also a broader question: the rate at which we can stomach the truths of man’s inhumanity to man, and ruminate on their causes.