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Antoni Libera

Antoni Libera, photo: Włodzimierz Wasyluk
Antoni Libera, photo: Włodzimierz Wasyluk

Antoni Libera was born in 1949. He graduated from Warsaw University and received his doctorate from the Polish Academy of Sciences. He has been occupied with Samuel Beckett's works for many years, which he has translated into Polish and directed on stage.

Libera has translated and published all of Beckett's dramas (1988, 1995), part of his prose work (1982) and also essays and poems. In Poland he produced Beckett's plays chiefly in Warsaw theaters and for television. He has also staged Beckett's dramas in the original in London (Riverside Studios, 1990), Dublin (The Gate Theatre, 1991 and 1999), New York (Lincoln Center, 1996), Melbourne (1997), and most recently in 1999 at the Beckett Festival in London. From 1976 onwards he was in close contact with the playwright, who advised him and gave him many production tips, and called him his 'ambassador in Eastern Europe'. Libera has also translated Oscar Wilde, Greek tragedies and opera libretti.

Madame, Libera's debut novel, was celebrated as a great literary event. It was on the bestseller lists, was nominated for the most important Polish literature prize, the Nike, and was awarded the prestigious Andrzej Kijowski prize. It was not long before interest in the book extended beyond Poland's borders. It has already been published in the US, in Germany and in Hungary, and translations into other languages, including Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian and Greek, are in progress. Hollywood film agents have already made their interest known. The book's success has already been compared with Umberto Eco's The name of the Rose.

Madame shows that there is still room for the European literary tradition even at the end of the twentieth century, and that writers can use classic models to their advantage without necessarily being naive. The writer can extend this model, play with it, and discover new possibilities within it. It is possible to write in a way that is readable and interesting, devise a plot and at the same time play with form. The novel, which was pronounced dead at least half a century ago, is very much alive: Madame, by Antoni Libera, is one piece of evidence that it is not thinking of dying.

Madame is almost as light as Chopin's music. (Los Angeles Times)
Stendhal would have loved this novel. If he had known Polish, he would even have been able to write it himself. (Washington Post)
Madame is at the same time an enthralling read, a nostalgic tale of youthful passion, and a sober analysis of growing up under Eastern Europe's gray skies in the sixties. Antoni Libera, known in Poland up till now as a translator and director, proves himself here to be an experienced and absorbing prose writer. (The Times)

The author himself speaks about the form of the novel: 

Madame is not a return to the past, a revival of old patterns, a cultivation of a long-forgotten style. It is a parody. A parody of the Bildungsroman, of the picaresque novel and autobiography. Professor Michał Głowiński understood that very well, when he wrote to me: 'this conscious, set up traditionality is a variation of novelty. 

Apart from Madame, Antoni Libera writes mostly essays. Błogosławieństwo Becketta / Beckett's Blessing is an extremely varied collection - it includes texts about his collegues, memories from Żoliborz, a pastiche of Jerzy Pilch's prose, poetry, and a one-act play Czy Europa musi zginąć? / Does Europe have to perish? Dariusz Nowacki thinks this thematic inconsistency is only apparent: 

Libera's book is actually a consistent and homogeneous story about the author's likes, about his taste. The writer uncovers his likes and dislikes (both literary and political), speaks about what he adores and what he truly hates. 

His next book, Godot i jego cień / Godot and his Shadow is an interesting blend of autobiography and essay.  The main purpose of this book is to tell the story of the author's personal fascination with Beckett's persona and work, which started when he was just eight years old and watched Waiting for Godot on stage. To explain, why it was Beckett who became so important for the author, a story about another theatre of the absurd is necessary - real socialism. Irish playwright's pessimistic, nihilistic work becomes for Libera a paradoxical confirmation of his cultural identity. 

If Beckett expresses the state of Western Europe's spirit, and I, having no idea about it, found someone truly close to me in him: if I find a voice which expresses myself as well, doesn't that mean that my identity is a Western one, nevermind the degradation of Soviet totalitarism? 

It's probably for that reaston that Bronisław Wildstein considered Godot and his Shadow a an overcoming of Beckett's pessimism. In 2010 the book was shortlisted for the Central Europe Literary Prize Angelus, it was also nominated for the Józef Mackiewicz Literary Award and - as the first Polish book ever - the Swiss Jan Michalski Literary Award. 

Antoni Libera seems to be a model for a rare species of the writer-intellectual. He mostly focuses on his main subject - analysis, translations and inscenisation of Beckett's work - but also his own literary texts have a charm of a 'piece well made' and great brilliance. This can be said about his volume of three short stories Niech się panu darzy (2013). Nostalgic novellas create a homogeneous, melancholic trilogy about human fate. 

Copyright: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza; updated by NMR, October 2016.'s picture
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