The Polish book market and literature scene are probably as big and lively as ever, with interesting new releases in poetry, prose and non-fiction – and in drama and kids’ books, with many available in English. Here's a look at Culture.pl’s Polish book faves already in translation or coming to English readers in summer 2013.
Publication of the English translation of Jacek Dehnel's novel Saturn is a high point of 2013. The book, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, is the story, based on facts, of the painter Francisco Goya, his son and grandson. Central to the tale are Goya's iconic black paintings, and the mystery concerning the authorship of the series of works. Made up of the intertwining monologues of the three men, Dehnel’s novel manages to grasp the nature of deeply flawed, toxic relationships between the three male generations in any time and space.
A much different, highly anticipated book is Sefer by Ewa Lipska. This novel, by one of Poland's best-known poets, is a poetic, witty, and ever-so faintly surreal exploration of the Holocaust’s legacy in the post-war generation, for whom a devastating history has grown distant, both temporally and emotionally. Sefer was translated by Barbara Bogoczek and Tony Howard, and comes out in September 2013.
Two recent biographies stirred much controversy at the time of their publication in Poland. In Vera Gran: The Accused, Agata Tuszyńska retells the story of Vera Gran, a Polish singer of Jewish descent. Very popular before the war, Gran became the biggest star in the cafes of the Warsaw ghetto. She managed to escape the Holocaust survive the war then continued her singing career in France - but for the rest of her life, she was plagued by accusations of collaboration. Those were never fully verified, yet she ended her life in emigration in Paris, forlorn and on the verge of insanity.
Another important story is in Artur Domosławski's biography of Ryszard Kapuściński, one of the late 20th century’s renowned and influential reporters. In his book, Domosławski, a reporter and a writer, questions the veracity of Kapuściński's reportage texts, which has provoked wide, sometimes heated discussion about the limits of non-fiction literature - and the amount of fictional liberty the form can tolerate. His book also touches on another taboo - that of the private life of significant people whose relatives are still alive. Many thought Domosławski divulged too much. Still, his bio turned out to be a real hit, with Polish-language readers taking home over 130,000 copies. Find out more aboute Artur Domosławski's Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life here...
Tadeusz Różewicz is a living, canny classic of Polish poetry. His Mother Departs, now translated into English by Barbara Bogoczek, is considered his most personal book, weaving fragments from diaries, stories and notebooks – and including moving texts written by his two brothers. This late-career volume is a portrait and a farewell to the poet's mother.
With Tomasz Różycki’s second book in English translation - Colonies, his sonnet cycle, was recently translated by Mira Rosenthal - and a third on the way in August 2013, he is truly coming into his own as a Polish poet of international significance, in the tradition that’s brought the world Miłosz, Herbert, Szymborska and Zagajewski.
The hero of Różycki’s forthcoming book, Twelve Stations (translated by the esteemed Bill Johnston and released on the 13th of August), called Grandson, leaves his hometown of Opole in Silesia in the western Poland to organize a family reunion in Ukraine, where his family had lived before the Second World War before being forcibly resettled with many thousands of other Poles. His mock epic poem references the Polish poem of the ages, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, and Różycki talks back both to history and to important literary predecessors in language that is as playful as it is masterful. Twelve Stations is new work of contemporary world poetry by one of its outstanding practitioners - and a must for everyone interested in contemporary Polish literature.
Polish theatre doesn't end with the names Lupa, Warlikowski and Jarzyna. Those highly contemporary, internationally acclaimed directors had influences too, and are rooted in much richer lineages in Polish theatre tradition. These date back to the late 19th and early 20th century, an era brought closer to the English-language reader by the anthology Invisible Country. Four Polish Plays. The volume contains the first English-language translations of four pertinent modernist plays: Snow by Stanisław Przybyszewski, In a Small House by Tadeusz Rittner, Ashanti by Włodzimierz Perzyński, and All the Same by Leopold Staff.
For more Polish theatricality, this time in a contemporary guise, mark your datebooks for autumn 2013 when Seagull Books brings out the new anthology (A)pollonia: 21st-century Polish Drama and Texts for the Stage. The dozen-strong collection takes its title from Warlikowski's contentious first play with his Nowy Teatr in Warsaw, and includes Dorota Masłowska’s intensely entertaining second play, No Matter How Hard We Tried, and works by Paweł Demirski, Jan Klata and a hit list of today's significant younger playwrights.
Gender matters in 19th-century Poland
Advanced lovers of Polish culture and literature can find a pair of interesting landmark 19th-century books written by women. Maria (Czartoryska) Wirtemberska's novel Malvina: Or the Heart's Intuition, and the transgressive proto-feminist spiritual novel by Narcyza Żmichowska, The Heathen, have both been translated by Ursula Phillips and are available from Northern Illinois University Press. Written in 1846, Zmichowska's The Heathen is the tale of a doomed love affair between Benjamin, a young man from a poor but patriotic rural family, and Aspasia, a femme fatale who is older, beautiful, worldlier and more sexually liberated. The Heathen embodies a profound meditation on the limits of these typecasts: The novel not only explores the restrictions placed on women during the 19th century, but on human happiness and Poland’s then-tenuous impulse toward modernity.
Non-fiction is particularly loved by Polish readers, with books by Kapuściński, Hanna Krall and Wojciech Tochman selling in big numbers, and their authors’ names high on lists of national voices of authority. Krall's classic Chasing the Queen of Hearts / Król kier na wylocie, translated into English for the first time by Philip Boehm, is one of the important reportage books on the Holocaust – and a remarkable true story of two people’s love and survival. This internationally acclaimed book’s September premiere in translation will be accompanied by events and discussions. Find out more...
Another forthcoming Polish non-fiction premiere is Witold Szabłowski's The Assassin from Apricot City / Zabójca z miasta moreli. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, it is a story of contemporary Turkey, a country torn between East and West, Islam and Islamophobia, permeated with both conservatism and post-modernity. As he travels across Turkey, Szabłowski heads for the most remote villages and towns to meet young women who have fled from the threat of honour killings, wives forced by their husbands into prostitution, a family of immigrants from Africa who dream of a better life, and Kurdish journalists and freedom fighters. A polyphonic portrait of Turkey today, The Assassin from Apricot City masterfully evokes present-day dreams and hopes of ordinary people, weaving a story from their potent, mesmerizing tales.
For the last several years, the Polish publishing market has been booming with books for children - colourful, innovative and,most importantly, loved by kids. The quality of the Polish children's book has probably never been higher, with illustrators and artists including Iwona Chmielewska receiving international awards and acclaim.
Only a few of these intriguing books end up translated into English, however. A recent example is Mamoko by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński, a so-called "seeking" book in which the young reader is encouraged to follow adventures of several rather marvelously quirky characters, track them as the pages flow, and develop their stories. As A.M. Bakalar put it, these hugely creative books will make your child fall in love with books. "'My child is addicted to them', said one mother to me", as Bakalar relates. "I could not think of a better way to put it".
For best Polish Crime Books go here...
See also aother lists of recommended Polish books:
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, 18th July 2013