Looking for the best books of 2013? We decided to select the most sigficant phrases released this year, using them as radars for detecting the most interesting phenomena in Polish literature of the past 12 months…
It was a year when ghosts of the past breathed a new after-life. The titans of Polish literature spoke from the underworld with newly discovered and post-humously published titles. Gombrowicz shook up the Polish sense of morality - once again. Miłosz revealed himself as a sci-fi author. To top this off, there was the homoerotic scandal which burst at the very heart of the Polish patriotic myth: Partoclus and Achilles of the Kamienie na szaniec. But in the year 2013, the living, and even the young living authors, also continued to write. Bold novels were delivered by acclaimed writers such as Pilch, Myśliwski and Karpowicz. The young Szczerek, Rejmer, Muszyński, Pustkowiak debuted in various untypical genres. This year has proved Polish literature is strong with its living, as well as its dead.
" The Mountains of Parnassus, thus monikered by travellers of the 19th century, people of a somewhat poetic inclination, are not very tall and only three of their tops preserve snow during summer – three white pyramids jutting a few dozen miles away from each other over the bluish green of pine forests, which gives the muddle of lumps, cliffs and valleys the look of a plain"
Czesław Miłosz debuted as a sci-fi writer with the above sentence. This debut of his came almost 10 years after his death, as he never made the decision to either finish or publish his Góry Parnasu (The Mountains of Parnassus), which he began writing in the early 1970s. Krytyka Polityczna did this for him, in February 2013. The unfinished opus posthumum of the Nobel Prize laureate didn’t astonish the critics. They were moderate in their appreciation, as they recognised the writer’s intuition in knowing when to stop, “instead of adding yet another novel to the excess amounts already weighing down various bookshelves”. These are the words of Miłosz himself. It seems that he would never really make a good sci-fi writer. Wojciech Orliński, a connaisseur of the genre commented that “Miłosz made the frequent technical mistake of throwing too much information at the reader, a fault commonly referred to as infodumping”.
Read more about the Mountains of Parnassus on culture.pl…
"He took my hand and held it hard. He was saying ‘Tadeusz, ah, Tadeusz, if only you knew…’ He complained about the pain and kept on saying ‘Tadeusz, how ecstactic, how pleasant…’. (…) He moaned with pain while telling me how happy he is, and how ecstatic it is. He fell asleep for a little while"
With the controversial article by Elżbieta Janicka, this fragment from Kamienie na szaniec by Aleksander Kamiński became one of the most widely commented quotes of 2013. Janicka drew an analogy between the mythical and amorous liason of Achilles and Partoclus and the close relationship between Zośka and Rudy (pseudonyms of Polish legends of the resistance army, Armia Krajowa, who faught the Nazi occupant in the catastrophic Warsaw Uprising). Janicka commented, “I think this is one of the most beautiful texts about love that knows no boudaries, and the entire knowledge about the relationship of those heroes accounts for a rare power and depth of this feeling”.
This comment stirred one of this year’s biggest scandals within the historic and literary circles. An avalanche of protests from war veterans followed, numerous corrections were sent in by scholars, with biting comments as well as funny internet mems. Janicka prepared her aricle for the 70th anniversary of the so-called Operation Arsenal. With the nearing celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising - which are scheduled for August, 2014 - the controversy will most likely reiterate in the months of the summer.
"I have a window onto the other side
A brazen Jewish window
Onto the beautiful Krasiński park
Where the autumn leaves soak…"
The original Polish quote reads:
Mam okno na tamtą stronę,
bezczelne żydowskie okno
na piękny park Krasińskiego,
gdzie liście jesienne mokną...
April – and yet another return of the dead. This month also saw the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened its gates and Władysław Szlengel’s poem, Okno na tamtą stronę (Window Onto the Other Side) resonated as part of the official openining ceremony. The forgotten oeuvre of the most important Polish-speaking poet of the Warsaw ghetto was brought back to memory by Magdalena Stańczuk. Stańczuk edited the recently released collection of Szlengel's poems which included a premiere publication of his pre-war poetry. Read more about Władysław Szlengel, hailed the “Chronicler of the drowning”, as well as artists of the Warsaw ghetto...
"Ero - not bad. Finances - on increase."
The May release of Gombrowicz’s Kronos was certainly one of the highlights of the literary year. Yet, its array of tasty sentences is rather scarce. In fact, there are almost no sentences in this book, in the proper grammatical sense. Instead, it is filled with lists of various medicaments, as well as all kinds of diseases and physical conditions. “The rash is not going away, I am making an analysis of my stool, but because of a blind bowel I can’t take any laxatives, thus a (negative) analysis is uncertain.” Apart from chronicling disease, Kronos is also a meticulous record of Gombrowicz’s finances and the unfolding prospects of fame. Fame for that matter is also regarded by the author as a potentially merely financial category. There is also a similiarly conscientious record of Gombrowicz’s erotic life. Read more about Kronos and what you didn’t know about Gombrowicz...
"I am now writing like a boy / It’s pouring out of me"
This sentence was written by Marcin Świetlicki in his first collection since 2011. The 52 year old underscored in various interviews that he has not enjoyed such an ease in writing for a very long time. And indeed, the Jeden (One) collection comprises 88 poems that resonate with a boyish carelessness and rebellion. Perhaps the cheerful tone ought to be taken with a grain of salt. In the end, the words that preceed the quoted proclamation are
I am leaving Gotham with a catwoman! yes!
That is, most likely:
death is coming
but it is choosing
a longer way.
I am now writing like a boy
"The bus stood slowly in a traffic jam as well as an incorrect idiom"
This how Ignacy Karpowicz decided to open his long awaited novel, in style, and his particular one, for sure. In the book entitled Ości (Fishbone), Karpowicz registers the crumbling of traditional family models while depicting the way in which a seemingly alarming state of affairs gives rise to new structure. It is not a homogenous one, but one that gives hope for survival. Thus, Ości include the trendy poliamour and transgender notions, but also decent loads of the good old irony typical for Karpowicz:
Norbert was very well aware of the fact that the world went on without her. That the sun rises, sets, the stock is up and down, that the catholics have the hosannah and the muslims have the habibi, the jews have their holocaust and that all are having fun playing the game called Palestine.
Novel of the year?
Karpowicz’s new novel was very well received by the critics, which does make it a canditate for the novel of the year title. It would most likely be running against Wiesław Myśliwski’s Ostatnie rozdanie (The Last Deal) and Wiele demonów (Many Demons) by Jerzy Pilch. And when it comes to the most interesting debuts of 2013, the most intersting one could well be Nocne zwierzęta (Nocturnal Animals) by Patrycja Pustkowiak - also as it is the first book by a literary critic and a case where she steps into a genre she ought to know only theoretically.
"I grew up in the forest like a golden bush
borne within a gypsy tent
resembling a boletus"
W lesie wyrosłam jak złoty krzak,
w cygańskim namiocie zrodzona
do borowika podobna
This year also brought a renewed discovery of the gypsy poet Papusza. The first revelation came in the 1950s, when Jerzy Ficowski encountered her works and then translated and published them. In 2013, the film Papusza portrayed their acquaintance and brough the extraordinary figure of the gypsy poet and her translator back to life. The Nisza publishing company decided to publish her works in autumn. Papusza’s verse is beautiful and filled with great sensitivity towards nature as well as a longing for it:
Pokochał mnie las
dał mi cygańskie słowo
wiatr nauczył mnie śpiewać
rzeka płakać pomogła
The forest grew to love me
it gave me the gypsy word
the wind it taught me to sing
the river it helped me cry
Prior to the collection of her poems, the Czarne publishing company released a book about Papusza, written by Andżelika Kuźniak. And with Papusza, there came a return of the gypsies. Ficowski’s studies on the topic – Cyganie na polskich drogach (Gypsies on Polish Roads) and Demony cudzego strachu (The Demons of Somebody Else’s Fear) – enjoyed renewed releases. His incredible collection of children’s fairytales from the gypsy tradition, Gałązka z drzewa słońca (A twig from the sun tree) also enjoyed a renewed publication.
Read more about the Papusza film...
"An old little orthodox church stood between apartment block buildings, the last trace of what was here before. The blocks towered over it, like charvers over the victim they want to beat the shit out of. On their balconies, firewood was stored, with stove chimneys jotting out of the windows"
This is how Ziemowit Szczerek described Western Ukraine in his book entitled Przyjdzie Mordor i nas zje ( Mordor Will Come and Eat Us, published by the Ha!Art company). The book is something between a road novel and a reportage about the endless Ukrainian paths and its characters. Szczerek evoked the American tradition of a road novel blended with gonzo-style reportage thus discovering the ideal form for a Polish post-coloniasl experience of being a tourist in Ukraine. For Poles, it is a country that is both strange and familiar. There are drug-induced ecstasies in Szczerek but also an interesting reflection on the nature of the East - even if the book’s protagonists would have trouble defining what this ‘East’ is.
Szczerek is this year’s literary discovery. Apart from Mordor, he managed to also publish his alternative history of Poland, in a book he entitled Rzeczpospolita zwycięska (The Triumphant Republic), released by Znak.
"And right then I thought ‘Where the fnuck do I live?’ Supposedly in a normal, civilised city, where, if someone put up a carton-hut in the middle of a fancy square and tried to sell something, people would protest. And instead they asked us what we will be selling and whether we’d be selling it at a pretty cool price"
This is the voice of one of the women portrayed in Filip Springer’s reportage entitled Wanna z kolumnadą (A Bathtub with Columns). This quote portrays the problem tackled by Springer – that of the common and omnipresent ugliness of Polish urban and public space, and, more importantly, people’s indifference towards this ugliness and towards their surrounding environment.
In his other book which was also released in 2013, Springer presented a diametrically different way of thinking about human space. The title of this other position is Zaczyn. O Oskarze i Zofii Hansenach (The Leaven. On Oskar and Zofia Hansen). Yet the Hansens’ modernist alternative seems to be filled with traps…
"It’s going to look honest. Real good: tall, light-skinned (using the 60 SPF as advised), blue-eyed – he smiles wide with his white teeth, as he holds the dark skinned child with certitude, and kisses it in a fatherly way. The white one is big, strong, and important. The white one dictates the content of this photograph. The white one shares his whiteness generously. And the brown child – timid, but also curious – shares its lice."
In Eli, Eli Wojciech Tochman weaves a reporter’s tale of globalization, tourism and poverty in the Philippines. The report was thought of as a point of departure for thinking about the ethical dilemmas of a journalist reposonsible for his subject, as well as the possibility of real help. Read the English translation of an interview with Tochman about Eli, Eli
In the non-fiction category Małgorzata Rejmer’s Bukareszt. Krew i kurz (Bucarest. Blood and Dust) scored very high, with the young author’s nomination for the prestigious Passport awards of the Polityka weekly. And Andrzej Muszyński – who made a reporter’s debut with his Południe (South) book about the antipodes – revealed himself as the author of interesting short stories published in Miedza.
The shortlisting of a comic book among finalists of the Nike Litearary Award (Poland’s most prestigious recognition in the genre) is probably the most surprising event of 2013. The surrealist picture story by Maciej Sieńczyk, Na bezludnej wyspie (On a Deserted Island), was released by the Wydawnictwo Lampa.
The 2013 Nike was won by Joanna Bator for her Ciemno, prawie noc (Dark, almost night), and the writer’s poll made Szczepan Twardoch’s Morfina their winner. Another important Polish prize, the Nagroda Literacka Gdynia ws presented to Zofia Oryszyn, and the Silesius prize in poetry went to Krystyna Miłobędzka. But in reality the poetry queen of the year was Krystyna Dąbrowska, who garnered the Kościelski award for her Białe krzesła (White Chairs) collection, and then also received the first Wisława Szymborska Prize (along with Łukasz Jarosz).
"I would like to explain that I am writing this book mainly out of avarice, because some twenty scenes that I wrote and a couple of ideas were not included in the film. And I like some of them, so if they are supposed to disappear forever, it’s better if I write them down."
That is some good motivation, and possibily the only good reason to publish a book, apart from the desire to make money. The story of “how I wrote the script for Andrzej Wajda’s film about Wałęsa” was adorned with a bounty of anecdotes about Głowacki’s cooperation with Wajda. The book came out in November, at the time of the premiere of the awaited film Wałęsa. Man of Hope
"The sexual marathon lasted up until genital pain. [...] Wiktor f…cked her over like a schnitzel, and patted out her buttocks like meat for a cutlet. He expanded her already wide vagina, bringing it back to the world of lust"
This the slightly censored quote from Wojciech Kuczok’s Obscenariusz (Obscenario), which was released during a stretched out holiday period …although it doesn’t necessarily make it the perfect Christmas gift. The short stories are definitely erotic in nature and meant for adult readership. Others have to do with this little excerpt…
Those who passed away
This year, like every other year, numerous excellent writers passed away. In June, we saw the death of Maciej Malicki and in August - Sławomir Mrożek (whose last drama, Karnawał, or Carnival, was re-released shortly before his death). October turned out most tragic, with the deaths of Joanna Chmielewska and
A Year of Anniversaries
2013 was first of all The Year of Tuwim. For the last 12 months, hundreds of events presented his life and work, and the biography written by Mariusz Urbanek, Wylękniony bluźnierca (The Scared Blasphemist) came out in autumn.
But there were more anniversaries. The 60th year since Gałczyński ’s death was commemorated by Znak publishing company with the release of Anna Arno’s biography entitled Niebezpieczny poeta (The Dangerous Poet).
The 100th birthday of Andrzej Bobkowski also brought a few new books.
More optimistic, or rather uplifting celebrations came with two 90th birthdays. The first jubilee had Papcio Chmiel turn 90 on the 7th of June. Henryk Jerzy Chmielewski – whose pseudonym Papcio Chmiel could translate as Hop Daddy – is the creator of Tytus, Romek and A’Tomek. This legendary comic series boasts a collection of 31 books of surrealist, funny and absolutely wondrous adventures of two boy scouts and a monkey-man. And in October, 2013 Papcio Chmiel released a new set of adventures about the history of the city of Warsaw…
The other 90-year-old of the year is Józef Hen who celebreated his birthday on the 8th of November.
The Wiem, co mówię (I know, what I am saying) book was released by Iskry, and it includes a collection of talks with Hen from the last 50 years. His 1957 novel, Nikt nie woła (Nobody’s Calling) was also renewed this year.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, translated with edits by Paulina Schlosser, 20.12.2013
all quote translations from the original Polish by Paulina Schlosser