Symphony for the Devil

The Anarchist & The Devil Do Cabaret

By Matt Huculak

A review of The Anarchist & The Devil Do Cabaret by Norman Nawrocki

Published on April 1, 2003

The Anarchist & The Devil Do Cabaret
Norman Nawrocki

Black Rose Books
$19.99
paper
196pp
1-55164-204-2

British novelist and travel writer Jonathan Raban has noted that travel is an eclectic mix of genres, accommodating the private diary, the essay, and the short story. The Anarchist & The Devil do Cabaret proves equally challenging to categorize. Norman Nawrocki uses all of the above literary forms to chronicle the politically charged adventures of his five-member anarchist band (six if you count a painted wooden devil puppet), Rhythm Activism, through various cities, squats, and underground clubs in a Europe not found on any tourist map.

Part band memoir, part fiction, this book is an atypical amalgam of social commentary, political writing, and fictional device. Nawrocki plots a complex narrative that navigates between band memoirs, missives, and short stories. His account of the band’s not-so-quotidian tour as it moves through the underbelly of Europe to promote its anticapitalist message is interspersed with letters from his lost Uncle Harry and polemical short stories that sometimes read as if they were lifted from an anarchist children’s primer. However, Nawrocki hits the mark with the short story “The Right Time Please,” a timeless gem that alone is worth the journey through Nawrocki’s thick political diatribes.

The book has the thematic feel of Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and the narrtive style of Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. Much like Isherwood in Berlin, Nawrocki succeeds in conveying the anxious present and uncertain future many Eastern Europeans face as they move rapidly from one political system to another. Lurking in the background is the sense of impending doom, be it in the form of racism or economic and social inequality. One half expects the fascists to come marching around the corner at any moment in the guise of goose-stepping American imperialists and bootlicking local capitalist landlords. Nawrocki establishes himself as both a sympathetic and honest narrator willing to reveal the darker side of the tour and his personality: the bar fights, the lack of showers, the dirty van, his doubts, his fears, and the physical sickness that plagues him throughout the tour.

Though Nawrocki’s political beliefs seem somewhat naive and particularly one-sided, he succeeds in bringing passion and a hyper-political consciousness into his fiction. In a time when the act of asking questions is subsumed, even deemed unpatriotic, by American’s war on terrorism, Nawrocki gladly lifts the lid to show us the lives of people no society should forget or leave behind, forcing the reader to consider the effects of Americanization on the poor during Eastern Europe’s political transformation.

As clear as Nawrocki’s contempt for the Americanization of the former Eastern Bloc is his editors’ contempt for the rules of English grammar. Following Nawrocki’s postmodern picaresque adventure means plodding through a profusion of spelling errors and “creative” punctuation. It would have served both the reader and Nawrocki better to have had one final edit.

In the end, and beyond his extreme political affiliations, Nawrocki creates a brutally honest and moving account of the people and places Rhythm Activism encounters on its tour, adding a compelling contermporary work to the travel genre. mRb

Matt Hukulak is currently translating the works of Czech travel writer Milan Pisek.

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