The Book Institute is to present classics from eight Polish authors who are little known abroad as part of the London Book Fair, one of the world’s biggest literary events. So, what can the international audience of today find in the books by Nałkowska, Brandys, and Themerson?
The presentation is unique in that literary fairs usually focus on new publications. Among the authors whose works will be promoted in the spring catalogue of the Book Institute are names such as Stefan Themerson, Zofia Nałkowska and Andrzej Bobkowski. What is the motif behind such an unusual take on the promotion of Polish literature, and what is the reason for reminding the world about books written 50 years ago, titles very well-known in Poland, but almost unnoticed across the globe?
The Institute explains in a note published on its website:
Although the international market is mostly interested in what is new, one can notice a growing interest in books a few decades old, and works by deceased authors who seem to have been forgotten. Today, we discover them anew, and they frequently turn out to be more interesting and up to date than at the time of their publication.
The Polish booth opens at the 2014 London Book Fair on the 8th of April.
According to the authors of the Modern Classics project, Polish classics of the 20th century are doing well and are well recognised. Authors such as Stanisław Lem, Witold Gombrowicz, Sławomir Mrożek and Jerzy Andrzejewski continue to gain new readership. This is the reason why the Modern Classics eight encompasses books which have not yet enjoyed popularity among foreign translators and publishers.
So, which books are worth translating and publishing, according to the Book Institute? Here are the eight proposed titles:
1. Zofia Nałkowska "Granica" (The Border) (1935) - a classic title in Zofia Nałkowska’s oeuvre, and one that has been shortlisted on the reading lists of Polish schools. It tells the tragic story of Zenon Ziembiewicz, a married man entangled in an affair with an old flame. The book was quite scandalous at the time of its publication, as it deals with pertinent issues such as abortion, poverty, and feudal social relations. Will these problems resonate with readers in 2014 AD?
2. Stefan Themerson "Wykład profesora Mmaa" (The Lecture of Professor Mmaa) (1953) - The action of Stefan Themerson’s book takes place in a termite mound which resembles a "human” state. It is both a political satire and a philosophical tale. The common theme is the Bald Ape, that is, the human being. One of the most original works of Polish literature, the book was created during the Second World War. In his review of the book for culture.pl, Jakub Nikodem writes "We sense in it the atmosphere of a great turning point in European civilisation, after which nothing will ever be the same again.”
3. Andrzej Bobkowski "Szkice piórkiem" (Small Pen Sketches) (1957) - one of the most incredible diaries of Polish literature. Bobkowski wrote it during the time of war in France, and it constitutes one of the most fundamental critiques of Western civilisation, while being a manifesto of the author’s personal freedom. In the conflict of nature and culture, Bobkowski speaks in favour of the former, as he enjoys life in the landscapes of southern France, sunbathes on Mediterranean beaches, and rides a bike on the slopes of the Alps.
Read more about Andrzej Bobkowski, a cyclist, model maker, and writer…
4. Tadeusz Konwicki, "Kronika wypadków miłosnych" (The Chronicle of Love Accidents) (1974) - a nostalgic and poetic tale of love and coming of age in Vilnius on the eve of the outbreak of World War II. In 1985, the book was made into a film by Andrzej Wajda.
5. Kazimierz Brandys "Wariacje pocztowe" (Postal Variations) (1972) - an epistolary novel from Kazimierz Brandys, containing letters written between fathers and sons, and spanning across 200 years of Polish history. This work was a reaction to the 1968 antisemitic propaganda and the model of the patriotic Pole, and one proud of his history. "Real events have a surreal character in Poland, as if life itself was turning into the absurd, into a fabulous idiocy".
6. Edward Redliński "Konopielka" (1973) - a classic example of the trend for peasants in Polish literature. In Konopielka, Redliński depicts the world in a distorted mirror, creating an ideal image of peasant culture, as well as its inevitable end and subjugation by urban civilisation.
7. Ewa Kuryluk "Wiek 21" (Century 21) (1992) - originally written in English, the postmodern and witty novel blends epochs, places, and characters, as well as literary genres, among which are a Platonic dialogue, a 19th century romance, reportage, and sci-fi. The author, an art historian and painter, has lived in the United States since 1981.
8. Tomasz Mirkowicz "Pielgrzymka do Ziemi Świętej Egiptu" (A Pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Egypt) - A postmodern novel by the prominent translator of English literature who transcribed the work of Orwell, Ken Kasey, and Harry Mathews. The book has many things in common with the latter’s Transformations - it is similarly filled with intertexual riddles and showy erudition. It's also full of people who lose their heads, hence its subtitle - "A Lipocephallic novel.”
The Modern Classics catalogue will be presented to the public for the first time on the 8th of April at the London Book Fair. The fair is the most prestigious event in the field after the Frankfurt Fair, and a significant place for the sale of copyrights. This year, more than 1500 participants from over a 100 countries present their titles. Among the participants are publishers, literary agents, bookshop owners, and librarians. The event is not open to the general public. Its programme consists of numerous seminars and specialist meetings. This year’s "Market Focus" is Korea. .
The Polish booth, organised by the Book Institute, will present items from 19 participants, including new publications, children’s books which have been awarded by the Polish IBBY section (take a look at The Loveliest Children's Books in 2013), and a selection of foreign translations of Polish literature created as part of the Translatorski Program ©POLAND. The Polish Modern Classics are part of the booth as a separate special exhibit.
Source: Instytut Książki (Book Institute)
Author: Mikołaj Glińśki, translated by Paulina Schlosser, 10/4/2014