A novelist and author of a volume of verse, born in Gdańsk in 1957, Huelle is a graduate in Polish of the Gdańsk University, and has also worked in that city as an employee of the ‘Solidarity’ press office, university lecturer, journalist, director of the Gdańsk Polish Television Center and, most recently, as a columnist for Gazeta Wyborcza. Huelle has found enormous success as a writer and been honoured with many prestigious awards.
Novelist, author of a volume of verse.
His work, rich in themes and form, is always connected with Gdańsk – a ‘small homeland’. The distinguishing features of this prose include, on the one hand, the epic panache and attention to detail, and, on the other hand, the erudite nature, the tendency to pastiche and play with conventions, to enter into dialogue with the works of other writers. This can already be seen in the first novel, Who Was David Weiser? (1987) – a book that refers to Günter Grass’s Cat and Mouse, but is also an original creation of the Polish author. Who Was David Weiser?, hailed as the most important debut of the decade and awarded the Kościelski Prize (1988), is still considered Huelle’s greatest achievement so far. The book has been translated into many languages, and also boasts a film adaptation – in 2000, Wojciech Marczewski directed the film Weiser.
In the 1990s, Huelle published Moving House and Other Stories (1991), Wiersze (Poems; 1994) and Pierwsza Miłość i Inne Opowiadania (First Love and Other Stories; 1996; for this book he was nominated for the Nike Award) and Other Stories (1999; a collection of editorials and essays published in Gazeta Wyborcza).
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In his short stories, as in Who Was David Weiser?, the writer mythologises his homeland – Gdańsk and the Baltic Coast. And just like in his debut novel, the world of boyish experiences, recalled in the memories of an adult, plays an important role. The book is covered with overlapping time perspectives, the accompanying oneirism and the aura of understatement.
In 2001, Huelle’s second novel was published – Mercedes-Benz: from Letters to Hrabal. The book is a tribute to the Czech master, Bohumil Hrabal – firstly, as the title suggests, it takes the form of a letter to ‘beloved Mr Bohumil’. Secondly, both the plot and the language are Hrabalean. The story takes place in Gdańsk at the beginning of the 1990s. The protagonist, a writer, takes a driving licence course, not doing very well behind the wheel. To divert the attention of the beautiful instructor, Miss Ciwle, from his mistakes, he tells her about the cars of his grandparents – inspired, as he openly admits, by an idea from Hrabal’s novel.
Similarly, ‘inspired by an automotive daimon’, in dizzyingly long, often complex, truly Hrabal-like sentences, Huelle tells amusing anecdotes in Mercedes-Benz – about his grandmother’s Citroën crushed by a hasty Vilnius–Baranovichi–Lviv train, or about his grandfather’s Mercedes-Benz, seized by the Red Army for Nikita Khrushchev. As it turns out, telling these sparkling humorous stories from the past has a therapeutic meaning: neither the student’s nor his instructor’s life is happy (they both have seriously ill siblings, and she lives in poverty). Mercedes-Benz was awarded the Polityka Passport Award (2001). However, the book divided critics and readers. The mastery of form, lightness and wit were admired, but there were doubts as to the imitative character of the work.
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His novel Castorp (2004) is a part of Borges’ ‘idea of a great library’. Like Mercedes-Benz, it is literature made of literature, a tribute paid this time to Tomasz Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Mann’s book contains laconic information about the fact that the hero, Hans Castorp, before he came to the sanatorium in Davos, studied at the Gdańsk University of Technology for four semesters. This inspired Huelle to create a kind of prequel of the German masterpiece. We get to know the story of young Hans, who at the beginning of the twentieth century sailed from Hamburg to Gdańsk by ship. Here, he falls in love with the beautiful Polish woman Wanda Pilecka (a prefiguration of the Russian Madame Chauchat from The Magic Mountain) and experiences a spiritual crisis in the fight backed by Schopenhauer’s philosophy. The background to the story, perhaps more important than its protagonists, is Gdańsk, Wrzeszcz and Sopot, described with care and tenderness.
Castorp can be read as a variation on the theme of The Magic Mountain, addressing some of its themes and problems (such as the attitude of the Germans towards the East). Huelle’s book can also be regarded as the next link in the chain of works creating the mythology of Gdańsk. For the writer, the work on this novel was an exercise in his imagination, a composition on a theme he had set himself as he said in an interview with Sebastian Łupak (Gazeta Trójmiasto, 17.05.2004).
If, however, some feared that Huelle would stop at such composition exercises, the next novel proved that he could still do much better. A sharp satire on contemporary Poland and at the same time a work with philosophical ambitions, The Last Supper (2007) aroused heated discussions among critics. The plot of the novel refers to the idea of Maciej Świeszewski, professor at the Gdańsk Academy of Fine Arts, who became famous a few years ago when he painted a large-format painting entitled The Last Supper, portraying well-known figures of the Tri-City as apostles. In Huelle’s book, Mateusz, an artist belonging to the ‘metaphysicians’ trend, realises the same concept by asking his old friends to become Christ’s disciples during a photoshoot in the theatre.
After the Last Supper, nominated for the Nike Award, Huelle published the Cold Sea Stories (2008). In this collection of short stories, the author looks back to the past, following the human fate associated with Pomerania; he also returns to a calm, elegant narrative and focuses on existential and metaphysical issues. The question has arisen as to what Huelle’s next book will be like. Some asked if a melancholic, nostalgic tone will prevail, as in his short stories, or rather a satirical twist visible in the last novel? Or maybe the writer will surprise his readers with something radically new? Certainly, his talent, supported by erudition, always raises high expectations.
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These expectations were faced in his next novel, Śpiewaj Ogrody (Sing Gardens; 2014), the title of which was taken from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, the beloved poet of Paweł Huelle. The book is another tribute to Gdańsk, to music and to a woman. It is a multi-faceted story permeated with autobiographical motifs, a memory of Gdańsk as a melting pot of cultures, a fascination with Wagner and a legend about a flautist from Hameln.
Two years after the publication of the novel Sing Gardens, Huelle returned with the collection of essays and columns Ulica Świętego Ducha i Inne Historie (The Street of the Holy Spirit and Other Stories; 2016). Although they were previously published in Other Stories published in 1999, or even earlier when they were first published in Gazeta Wyborcza and Przegląd Polityczny, the erudite reflections of the writer did not lose their value. Many of his texts deal with literature and Huelle turns out to be not only a skilled author but also a very attentive reader.
Source: www.polska2000.pl; copyright: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza; update: AP, July 2019.
- Weiser Dawidek. Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Morskie, 1987; second, revised edition London: Puls, 1992.
- Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki (Stories for a Time of Relocation). London: Puls, 1991.
- Wiersze (Poems). Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Morskie, 1994.
- Pierwsza miłość i inne opowiadania (First Love and Other Stories). London: Puls, 1996.
- Inne historie (Different Stories). Gdańsk: Słowo/obraz terytoria, 1999.
- Mercedes-Benz. Z listów do Hrabala (Mercedes-Benz. Letters to Hrabal). Krakow: Znak, 2001.
- Castorp, Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Słowo/obraz terytoria, 2004.
- Ostatnia wieczerza (The Last Supper), Kraków: Znak, 2007.
- Opowieści chłodnego morza (Cold Sea Stories), Kraków: Znak, 2008.
- Śpiewaj ogrody (Sing Gardens), Kraków: Znak, 2014.
- Ulica Świętego Ducha i inne historie (Święty Duch Street and Other Stories), Kraków: Znak, 2016.
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- German:Weiser Dawidek. Hamburg-Zürich: Luchterhand, 1992.Schnecken, Pfützen, Regen und andere Geschichten aus Gdańsk. Hamburg-Zürich: Luchterhand, 1992.
- Spanish:Donde estÁ Weiser Dawidek. Barcelona: Barral, 1990.
- French:Weiser Dawidek. Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1990.
- Finnish:Kuka olet, David Weiser. Otava: Keuruu, 1995.
- English: Moving House and Other Stories [Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki], trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, London: Bloomsbury Press, 1994; trans. Michael Kandel. New York; San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1995, Who Was David Weiser? [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones. London: Bloomsbury, 1991, 1995; trans. Michael Kandel. New York; San Diego [etc.]: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992; 1994, Mercesdes-Benz [Mercedes-Benz], trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Serpents Tail Publishing, 2005, Castorp, trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Serpents Tail Publishing, 2007, Last Supper [Ostatnia wieczerza], tłum. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Serpents Tail Publishing, 2008, Cold Sea Stories [Opowieści chłodnego morza], trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Londyn: Comma Press, 2012