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Magdalena Tulli

 Magdalena Tulli, photo: Elżbieta Lempp
Magdalena Tulli, photo: Elżbieta Lempp

Polish writer and translator. Born on the 20th of October 1955 in Warsaw. Nominated three times for Poland's Nike literary prize and the 2012 Best Translated Book Award in the US.

Magdalena Tulli is one of Poland's most interesting contemporary writers of fiction. Her rather difficult prose has been termed by some as post-modern (her influences include Italo Calvino) and she isn't among the most widely read authors, however she remains highly respected by critics. This is corroborated by the three nominations to Polish biggest literary prize Nike Book Award.

Her literary sophistication and personal isolation has been noted by her translator Bill Johnson who avers that

Tulli is not part of the literary mainstream in Poland. In addition, she’s a very private character and has no interest in promoting herself through PR machines—she expresses herself first and foremost through her writing.

The list of possible influences on the writing of Tulli was observed by W.S Merwin, who remarked that "the originality of Tulli's writing is not lessened by representing a family tree that includes Michaux, Kafka, Calvino, and Saramago".

Magdalena Tulli debuted in 1995 with Dreams and Stones (Sny i kamienie), a novel or rather prose poem, featuring practically no characters. As Bill Johnson remarks, "It’s a novel about objects and about ways of seeing and explaining. The only actual character is the narrator, whose rather pedantic voice is our only clue to his existence".

In her next books, such as In Red and Moving Parts, she tends to meander between several plot strands or different ways of telling a story. Johnson finds that 'Tulli gradually introduces narrative, though she does so in a very tentative and self-aware way (this is why she’s sometimes accused, wrongly, of writing 'meta-fiction')'.

In Red (Polsh title W czerwieni) was nominated for the NIKE Prize in 1999 and the following year the German and French translations were released, while the English translation came out in 2011. In 2012 it was nominated for the Best Translated Book of the Year Award sponsored by the University of Rochester and Moving Parts (Tryby) came out in 2003 and was nominated for the Nike award in 2004.

Tulli's fourth book Flaw can be seen as a universal parable, however the treatment of the Jews in the Second World War is a clear point of reference (Tulli is of Italian-Jewish-Polish descent). Still, throughout the book the refugees are persistently called "the Others".

Tulli's complicated family background (born to a Polish-Jewish mother in Warsaw, she spent much of her childhood in Italy, at her father's) comes to the surface in her last book Włoskie szpilki (Italian High Heels), published in 2011. This largely autobiographical book also marks a certain turn in her rather meta-fictional and anti-biographical oeuvre. In June 2012 the book received the prestigious Gdynia literary award, along with Marian Sworzeń, Mieczysław Porębski, Marta Podgórnik

Critics have remarked that ever since her debut in 1995 Tulli appeared as a entirely new and distinct phenomenon in Polish literature as an author of a certain anti-prose, dedicated to breaking the laws of traditional fiction.

Tulli is also an accomplished translator from the French and Italian. In 2001 she translated Marcel Proust's La Fugitive (volume six of Remembrance of Things Past). For her translation of a book of short stories by Fleur Jaeggy La paura del cielo she was awarded the Literatura na Świecie (Literature in the World) Prize, the most important Polish award for translators. She's also translated La giornata d'uno scrutatore (Polish title Długi dzień Ameriga) by Italo Calvino.

Major works:

  • Dreams and Stones (Sny i kamienie), Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Open, 1995.
  • In Red (W czerwieni), Warsaw: W.A.B., 1998.
  • Moving Parts (Tryby), Warsaw: W.A.B., 2003.
  • Flaw (Skaza), Warsaw: W.A.B., 2006.
  • Włoskie szpilki, Warsaw, 2011
  • Szum, Kraków, Znak, 2014

Selected translations:


  • Dreams and Stones (Sny i kamienie), trans. Bill Johnston, Nowy York: Archipelago Books 2004
  • Moving parts (Tryby), trans. Bill Johnston, Nowy York: Archipelago Books 2005
  • Flaw (Skaza), trans. Bill Johnston, Archipelago Books 2007


  • Dans le rouge 9W czerwieni), trans. Laurence Dyèvre, Paris: Pauvert, 2001
  • Le Defaut (Skaza), trans. Charles Zaremba, Editions Stock 2007


  • Traüme und Steine (Sny i kamienie), Berlin: Oberbaum, 1998
  • In Rot (W czerwieni), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 2000
  • Getriebe (Tryby), trans. Esther Kinsky, Frankfurt am Main: Schöffling & Co., 2008


  • Sogni e pietre [Sny i kamienie], trans. Raffaella Belletti, Roma: Voland, 2010


  • Sny i kamienie, Moskwa: NLO, 2007


  • El defecto (Skaza) trans. Francisco Javier Villaverde, Barcelona: Rayo Verde Editorial, 2015    


  • Drömmar och stenar (Sny i kamienie), trans. Julian Birbrajer, Stockholm/Stehag: Symposion, 2008


  • Sny i kamienie, trans.Wiktor Dmitryk, Lwów: Calvaria 2010.


Author: Mikołaj Gliński, April 2012

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Mikołaj Gliński
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