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Translating Polish Non-fiction

Mikołaj Gliński
Mariusz Szczygieł, którego "Gottland" jest najczęściej tłumaczoną polską książką non-fiction z obcego kraju, fot. Krzysztof Kuczyk / Forum
Mariusz Szczygieł - his Gottland is the most frequently translated Polish non-fiction book that speaks about a country other than Poland photo: Krzysztof Kuczyk / Forum

Ever since the era of Kapuściński and Krall, reportage has been considered a Polish speciality. Popular within the country, it is also the most eagerly translated genre of contemporary literature from Poland. So, what reportage oeuvres from Poland are read across the globe?

In July, 2014, Press magazine published a list of the most frequently translated Polish non-fiction authors. At first place is Polish reporter Hanna Krall (with 70 translations into foreign languages), with Mariusz Szczygieł coming second (23), and Agata Tuszyńska in third (15). If the list encompassed not just living authors, we would most likely have Kapuściński, Krall, and Szczygieł in the respective first, second and third places.
See the ranking of the most frequently translated non-fiction authors

The high position of fourth for Jacek Pałkiewicz (14 translations) may come as something of a surprise, as he represents another genre in the craft, authoring travel and survival books. His popularity is also limited to the Italian market. Wojciech Tochman also scores 4th place and 14 translations alongside Pałkiewicz, and Wojciech Jagielski, Poland’s acclaimed war reporter is fifth with 12 translations. With 9 translations each, Jacek Hugo-Bader and Artur Domosławski both come 6th.

Click here to read our Foreigner's Guide to Polish Reportage

Polish reporters write about the world

Mariusz Szczygieł Gottland cover

What is interesting is that list of translations barely includes any works about Poland as such. With the exception of Hanna Krall (whose works are so strong due to the topic rather than the actual place that they describe), Polish reportage deals mostly with foreign lands.

As we can see, these lands do not have to be exotic (from a Polish perspective). The most frequently translated Polish reportage book is Gottland, a collection of Mariusz Szczygieł’s accounts of the Czech Republic. The book has already been translated into 14 languages, with the 15th translation into Romanian now underway.

The foreign editions of Wojciech Jagielski and of Wojciech Tochman are also high on the Press’ list. These authors continue the tradition of Polish war (or post-war) reportage of the Ryszard Kapuściński kind. They were either written from the frontlines of ongoing military conflicts (as is the case with Jagielski’s The Night Wanderers from Uganda and Towers of Stone from Chechnya), or created in areas which only recently saw the end of war (Tochman’s Like Eating a Stone, an account of Bosnia, and his Today We Shall Draw Death, about Rwanda). These titles share huge interest from foreign publishing companies.

Polish reporters also write about Russia (Jacek Hugo-Bader), Turkey (Wojciech Szabłowski) and the Caucasian mountain range area (Wojciech Górecki) – and these directions are also popular with foreign publishing houses.


Artur Domosławski, Kapuściński: A Life, cover

The topic of Polish to English translators is also an interesting one. Within the English-speaking market  – actually the biggest market for translations – most of the recently published titles were transcribed by just one person. Antonia Lloyd-Jones is the author of the English transcriptions of books by Jacek Hugo-Bader, Wojciech Tochman, and Mariusz Szczygieł, as well as Domosławski’s widely commented on and controversial biography of Ryszard Kapuściński. The prominent Lloyd-Jones translated the majority of books we shortlisted in our guide of the best Polish reportage available in English.  And yet, non-fiction is not the only area of Lloyd-Jones’ activity. In 2013, she was presented with the Found in Translation Award for her lifetime achievements.

Read our interview with Antonia Lloyd-Jones about the English edition of Janusz Korczak’s Kajtuś Czarodziej

 The most frequently translated Polish non-fiction books*: 

1. Hanna Krall "Zdążyć przed panem Bogiem" (Shielding The Flame) - 16 translations
2. Mariusz Szczygieł "Gottland" (Gottland) - 14
3. Hanna Krall "Taniec na cudzym weselu" (A Dance at Somebody Else's Wedding)- 10
    Wojciech Tochman "Jakbyś kamień jadła" (Like Eating a Stone) - 10
4. Hanna Krall "Dowody na istnienie" (Evidence For Existence) - 8
   Hanna Krall "Król kier znów na wylocie" (Chasing the King of Hearts) - 8   
   Agata Tuszyńska "Oskarżona Wiera Gran" (Wiera Gran – The Accused) - 8
   Jacek Hugo-Bader "Biała gorączka" (White Fever) - 8
   Artur Domosławski "Kapuściński: Non-Fiction" (Ryszard Kapuściński. A Life) - 8
5. Hanna Krall "Tam już nie ma żadnej rzeki" (There is No River There Anymore)- 7
6. Hanna Krall "Sublokatorka" (The Roommate) - 5
     Mariusz Szczygieł "Zrób sobie raj" (Make Your Own Paradise) - 5
7. Hanna Krall "Hipnoza" (Hypnosis) - 4
    Hanna Krall "To ty jesteś Daniel" (So You Are Daniel) - 4
    Wojciech Jagielski "Nocni wędrowcy" (The Night Wanderers)- 4
    Wojciech Jagielski "Wieże z kamienia" (Towers of Stone)- 4
8. Wojciech Szabłowski "Zabójca z miasta moreli" (The Assassin From Apricot City) - 3
Agata Tuszyńska "Singer. Pejzaże pamięci" (Singer. Landscapes of Memory) - 3

*Based on the ranking of Press magazine (July-August 2014), the list encompasses living authors only, following the hyphen is the number of translations.

Author: Mikołaj Gliński
Translated by Paulina Schlosser, 11/07/2014

Language & Literature
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