Sunday, March 17, 2019

Wilk: a Profile of a Character

The character known as Wilk makes his debut in THE DICTATOR’S CHILDREN (coming May 4). Although this will be the first novel with him as the lead, it is set relatively late in his career — he is in his fifties by the time it takes place, 1948. There should be more Wilk novels, set both before and after ‘Dictator.’

Who is Wilk? He is a Pole, born in the German-controlled part of that nation, near Danzig (Gdansk, now) in 1894. Jan Patrokowski is the name then. Though Polish, his upbringing is largely German as a member of a prosperous middle-class family. As such, he enlisted in the German army at the outbreak of World War One. By this time he had a couple of years of higher education under his belt, studying engineering.

His expertise in things mechanical quickly got him posted to the air service, working on engines. From there, it was a short step to flying himself. Jan — or Hans, as the Germans officially had him — spent most of the war in two-seat aircraft, eventually serving in a ‘battle flight’ of Halberstadt attack-fighters. It was here he received the nickname Wilk, meaning wolf in Polish (he did use the German pseudonym Hans Wulf later on).

It is to be noted that he was not involved in any of the Polish nationalist movements of the time, such as that headed by Pilsudski, but remained more-or-less loyal to Germany. The confusion of the postwar period found him traveling east to briefly join the Reds in Russia, before being sent on to China as an adviser and goodwill gesture by the Bolsheviks. (This period might be the setting of the next Wilk novel.)

The young fellow gets around, doesn’t he? I am trying to avoid making him sound like Young Indiana Jones! At any rate, after two or three years adventuring in China he makes his way home — going the long way round, across the Pacific. There he returns to school, in Berlin, eventually achieving his doctor’s degree in engineering. At the same time, he begins working for Polish intelligence in various capacities. That is, until Pilsudski essentially engineers a coup and becomes de facto dictator of the country.

At which time, Wilk resigns in protest and makes his way back to China, where a post has been offered. He has been using Wilk as a name off and on by this time, first choosing to be know as Jean Wilk (with a hard W rather than the original V sound) on his original visit to China. He also uses Jan Wilkowski as a sometime alias and, later, adopts the English name of John Wilkins. But he is called Wilk throughout.

When he returns to Europe in the early Thirties, it is both to work with the Polish opposition, including Paderewski, and to work in the family business — something becoming more difficult with the growing Nazi presence in Danzig. He spends a good deal of time in Paris during this period and also becomes engaged to his best friend’s sister. These are of a Jewish family, which complicates matters, and the bride-to-be flees to America in time. Wilk is too involved with his causes to follow her.

Instead, he returns once again to China in 1937 and takes part in the fight against the Japanese. He also marries there, but the wife is lost and presumed (rightly so) dead in the turmoil of war and its aftermath. He serves in various capacities in the Pacific area through the war (he is no longer a young man, mind you) and settles in Australia after, being awarded citizenship, to open a ‘consulting’ business. He also searches for his missing wife.

This is pretty much where we find him at the start of THE DICATOR’S CHILDREN. He marries a year or so later (the bride-to-be is introduced in the novel), and has a bunch of kids who speak Aussie. These are in addition to his stepdaughter whom he retrieved from Macau, postwar. After that? The only tale I actually have projected is one that takes place in 1966 in Vietnam, when Wilk would be in his seventies. That was, in fact, the origin of the character but I decided to write other stories about him first. He does live just long enough to see communist rule ended in Poland.

Physically, Wilk is not a big guy, somewhat wiry, dark-haired, and keeps himself fit (almost obsessively so). He wears a mustache pretty much from the time he makes his first trip to China. Good at languages, good at all things mechanical and a bit fascinated by them at times. He appreciates a well-designed firearm and carries a Browning Hi-Power as his sidearm of choice from the mid-Thirties on.

So that is the bare-bones story of the character’s life, the basis of a ‘canon’ if you will. It is world-building every bit as much as what I might do for a fantasy novel, and a framework on which I could build quite a few stories. Will I get to them? That may depend on how many other projects get in the way, but I certainly intend to revisit the character. In the meantime, one can purchase this first novel and get to know him better.

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