“There was simply too much fun to be had.”
Reality and three narrowly dodged death sentences kind of puts a damper on that illusion as 13-year old Jacob Marateck, citing “the ignorance of youth and a desire for grand adventure,” leaves his small Polish hometown to seek some rudderless escapades in the Warsaw of the absorbing and often black-humored true story The Accidental Anarchist.
Indeed, the adventures in this novel are many, and unforeseen. Variety-spiced life mixed with historical events of the 1900s in Russia and Poland sees Marateck moving on from student to baker’s assistant, labor organizer to an officer in the Russian army during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 against the Japanese in China. Marateck has his own struggles close at hand, too, in situations “in which the men under my command wanted to kill me, simply for being a Jew, as much as the enemy did, simply for being in the way.”
At the same time, a fervent Marateck tries to contribute to the rumblings of revolution then underway, intent on doing his bit in overthrowing Czar Nicholas II — including joining in "amateur spy missions that would have gotten a Hollywood screenwriter fired.” But in the course of these uncertain times, he is sentenced to death three times, the first two times for, respectively, hitting a superior, and then for falling asleep on guard duty. Having narrowly averted execution in most entertaining and unexpected fashion, Marateck is then left to face the harsh Russian and Asian winters, surviving sub-zero nights, starvation-tested marches, and ongoing gun battles.
Returning to Warsaw to catch up with the revolutionaries, Marateck is arrested and sentenced to death again. But three times’s a charmed life, if you want to call it that, as he ultimately receives a reprieve and is sent instead to a Siberian labor camp. After escaping his fate of hard labor and permanent exile in Siberia with Warsaw's eccentric "King of Thieves," the two strive to survive while roaming the expanse of Russia from Petersburg to Siberia. The objective: obtain false papers to travel home while avoiding the Secret Police. With more adventures in different circumstances, the rollicking and rewarding second half of The Accidental Anarchist, ensues.
It’s all part and parcel of the the book's captivating plot that gets a big boost from the writing and the characterization. “It is not the circumstances of our lives that determine who we are,” notes Kranzler in her Dedication, “but rather the way we choose to interpret them that defines our personalities and, to some extent, our destinies.”