The Seizure of Power Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Zdobycie wladzy, 1953 (English translation, 1955)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Political

Time of work: 1944-1950

Locale: Warsaw and elsewhere in Poland

Characters DiscussedPeter Kwinto

Peter Seizure of Power, TheKwinto (KWIHN-toh), a young intellectual and journalist who writes for the Polish Workers’ Party. Although he is of Italian descent, Peter was reared in Poland under his mother’s guidance, and he is in Warsaw when the Polish underground rebels against the Nazis. Peter is disillusioned when the Soviet army fails to support the Warsaw uprising, and he watches, helpless and in shock, as the Germans obliterate his hometown. After World War II is over, the Soviet Union is allowed to occupy Poland, and Peter becomes angry with himself for succumbing to the new Communist government, which he despises. Finally, by interpreting a recurring nightmare, Peter understands his apparent powerlessness against the new party by associating it with his father’s death. When Peter was a young boy, his father was killed in a war against Russia; as an adult, Peter realizes that he has the same fear for himself. That insight causes him to leave Poland and flee to France.

Stefan Cisovski

Stefan Cisovski (sih-SOV-skih), a cadet officer in the Home Army of the Polish underground. He is nicknamed Seal because of his swimming expertise. He eventually escapes from Warsaw by crawling through the sewer system. Although he manages to survive the war, he is guilt-ridden for abandoning a wounded friend and for having a brief affair. He believes that everything comes too late, when it is no longer valuable, but he nevertheless helps his commander escape to freedom and decides to remain in Poland to aid in rebuilding his hometown. He is arrested by the Communist regime and given a sentence of eight years of imprisonment because of his Socialist tendencies.

Professor Gil

Professor Gil, a scholar of classical literature. He appears only in two brief scenes during the body of the text, once when he refuses to leave his dying wife and a second time when he searches for his daughter’s corpse. Despite the brevity of his appearances, his musings set the framework for the novel. The opening pages reveal him at work, translating Thucydides’ writings about the Peloponnesian War. A link with history helps Gil to comprehend his own experience during World War II. The transition between parts 1 and 2 offers some of his personal history. Born a peasant’s son, he had to fight for the right to attend a university. With the Soviet occupation, he has lost his department chairmanship and feels his life ending because he can no longer encourage the youth to pursue truth. The closing pages show him gleaning information from a newspaper and pondering how people can survive sadness and indifference.


Wolin, the head of the Security Department of the NKVD (police force). Reared in an upper-class family, he feels oppressed by the unreality of that lifestyle and runs away from home when he is fifteen years old. Experiencing poverty, manual labor, and prison as a result, he develops a keen class consciousness and strongly supports Communism. Fanatic about mystery stories, Wolin himself is enigmatic, and he is excellent at playing political mind games.

Josiah Winter

Josiah Winter, a man who supports the communization of Poland not because he believes in communist theories but because he is afraid of the power of communism. Described as apelike, with small, black eyes, he wants desperately to be accepted by the Communist Party. When the NKVD questions him about Peter Kwinto, he provides enough information to sentence his intellectual acquaintance to the Urals for five years.

Michael Kamienski

Michael Kamienski (kah-mee-EHN-skih), the publisher and editor of an underground newspaper in Poland that advocates the combination of Fascism and Catholicism. He is viewed by the Communists as one of the blackest reactionaries in the country. Eventually, Kamienski agrees to recognize their political power if they will allow him to practice spiritual resistance.

BibliographyBell, Daniel. Review in The New Republic. CXXXII (May 16, 1955), pp. 41-43.Christian Science Monitor. September 10, 1982, p. B1.Czarnecka, Ewa, and Aleksander Fiut. Conversations with Czesław Miłosz, 1987.Guerard, Alfred. Review in Books Abroad. XXVIII (Autumn, 1954), pp. 436-437.Harrington, Michael. Review in Commonweal. LXII (July 8, 1955), p. 356.Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 22, 1982, p. 1.Miller, Jim. Review in Newsweek. C (October 4, 1982), p. 72.New Statesman. CIV, December 17, 1982, p. 44.Publishers Weekly. CCXXI, October 4, 1982, p. 72.Times Literary Supplement. December 24, 1982, p. 1426.World Literature Today. CII (Summer, 1978). Special Miłosz issue.
Categories: Characters