Born in 1949, a novelist and essayist. Chwin also writes adventure-fantasy tales for younger readers and illustrates them himself. He has also written critical and historical studies of literature. He lives in Gdańsk and works at the university there. He has won Andreas Gryphius' Prize in 1999.
A novelist and essayist, he also writes adventure-fantasy tales for younger readers and illustrates them himself and critical and historical studies of literature.
The author of the enthusiastically received Hanemann, a novel about Gdańsk as a Free City in the 1930s, during the war, and under Polish administration afterwards. Under the stony gaze of the Spirit of History who resides first in the Nazi-controlled Rathaus and next in the communist Security Bureau, the Robinson Crusoes who survived the wreck of the old Gdansk, and the newcomers who have arrived from the east, try to start over in life. The death of his beloved in the sinking of a passenger ship affects the eponymous Hannemann, a professor of anatomy, more than does the wartime destruction of the city. Without the woman he loves, nothing brings him comfort. Chwin masterfully describes a world of things expiring in fires, falling into the hands of strangers, and decaying in an alien atmosphere. This is all a symbol of vacancy and abandonment, of the foreignness of the world and of the fact that there is no returning to the past. Chwin includes stories of famous suicides: Kleist and his friend Henrietta Vogel, and the Polish writer Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and his companion. These legends of death are puzzles, tasks set for meditation.
Chwin's first novel, The History of a Certain Joke is a return to the world of a childhood marked by memories of the Stalinist era and the recollection of the Nazi period inculcated at home and in school. It is an attempt at reconstructing places in Gdansk and events have changed over the years into a treasured spiritual genealogy, into a private literary myth. The memory of injuries, hurt and sacrifices returns, as does the fascination with the otherness and intimacy of Polish-German relations. Chwin writes:
While working on Hanemann, I often had the strange impression that I was entering a world where I had already been, that I recognized old places, streets, trees, objects, and people. As if I had seen it all before.
Żona Prezydenta (editor's translation: The President's Wife; 2005) is a novel which uses motives from genre literature – especially political fiction. A mental facility patient, Nick Karpinsky, tells a story of the wife of a Polish president, who escapes the Belvedere and joins a hippie-like community, led by an enigmatic Master. With him, she takes part in a terrorist act, for which she is later detained in the United States Army prison, where Karpinsky works. He falls in love with her and defends her from the soldiers' tortures. Under this crime storyline, Chwin disguises a series of philosophical questions: in the fake introduction he says he's interested in giving the "testimony of general fears, obsessions and frustrations of our time".
In Dolina Radości (editor's translation: Happiness Valley, 2006), Chwin uses motives from fantasy novels: he tells the story of Eryk Stamelmann, a make-up artist, who's gotten to learn the magical skill of manipulating the human image. The plot takes place in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russa, and the protagonist takes part in a series of formidable events: he turns Jews into perfect Aryans, he helps Marlene Dietrich succeed, he even has the "privilege" of putting makeup on Lenin's dead body. The plot is only an excuse though, as Dariusz Nowacki wrote:
The starting point of philosophical and moral cogitation mounted into the Dolina Radości's plot matter, is the exposure of the catastrophy that took place in the beginning of modernity. It's the elimination of the opposition between what's outside and what's inside through questioning the latter (as a metaphysical illusion). A paraphrase of Nietzsche's though appears in the novel several times ("There is no depth, there is only the surface"), and Chwin tries to capture and catalogue many upsetting consequences of losing depth.
Most of all, in a world that is a surface without depth, a great identity drama takes place. Since the human being is just an image, the destructive temptation to escape the 'self' appears. What's more is the whole set of problems concerning the mask, the appearance, the façade or the general opaqueness, which – as Chwin suggests – is the XX century man's greatest worry (Gazeta Wyborcza, 30.10.2006).
In Miss Ferbelin Chwin raises the question of the presence of Jesus in modernity. The plot takes place during the turn of the XIX and XX centuries in Gdańsk. It's beginning is realistic: a carpenter's daughter, Maria Feberlin, helps her father get a job which consists in building seven gallows in the shape of a cross, dedicated to rebels dreaming of a free city. Gdańsk quickly changes into a fantastical city, where, like the biblical Pontius Pilate, the attorney of the state rules. Justyna Sobolewska commented:
Despite all reservations, there is much to think and talk about. Chwin wrote a novel about Christ, who doesn't suit the modern world, and even more – the modern Church. There is a longing for the Polish phenomenon of the year 1980, where something similar to an evangelic community was formed. It never happened again (Polityka, 4.03.2011).
Srebrzysko: Powieść dla Dorosłych (Srebrzysko: A Story for Adults, trans. AP), Chwin’s next novel, also partially takes place in Gdańsk. The author said that it’s ‘the riskiest book that I’ve ever written.’ The plot develops around a chain of tragic events in the life of an inhabitant of Warsaw, built around religious references and allegories. As Dariusz Nowacki writes:
In short, it is a peculiar and mysterious novel. The novel is undoubtedly, as the subtitle puts it, intended for adults, if we see adulthood as the ability to face hair-raising problems (Gazeta Wyborcza, 24 October 2016).
He is a researcher of Polish literature since the Romanticism to modern times. His wrote his PhD entitled "The romantic system in modern Polish literature based on works by Wacław Berent, Bruno Schulz, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Tadeusz Konwicki, Tadeusz Nowak" in 1982 under professor Maria Janion. In 1994 he achieved a postdoctoral degree based on the text "Literature and treason. From Konrad Wallenrod to A Minor Apocalypse". In 2010 he published a book of essays entitled Samobójstwo jako Doświadczenie Wyobraźni (Suicide as an Experience of Imagination, 2010), for which he was awarded the Gdynia Literary Award. He looks at the lives of Aleksander Wat, Rafał Wojaczek, Jerzy Kosiński or Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, but also personas from ancient history – like Socrates and Judas – and fictional literary characters. The treaty can be read both as a piece of literary criticism and as a commentary to the writer's novels, is considered the most interesting work on the subject in Polish literature.
Chwin also researched historical and literary interpretations of Czesław Miłosz and his relations with Gdańsk in his two studies published in 2013, entitled Miłosz: Interpretacje i Świadectwa (Miłosz: Interpretations and Testimonies, trans. AP) and Miłosz: Gdańsk i Okolice (Miłosz: Gdańsk and its Surroundings. trans. AP). In the first book, the literary historian investigates previously unexplored elements of the poet’s life – Miłosz’s attitude towards Darwin’s theory and Miłosz’s monument in Gdańsk. In the second book, Chwin extensively compiles Miłosz’s visits to Gdańsk and his relations and intertextual references related to the city.
Source: www.polska2000.pl; copyright: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza, updated by AP, February 2019.
- Krótka historia pewnego żartu. Sceny z Europy Środkowowschodniej / The Brief History of a Certain Joke: Scenes from East-Central Europe, Oficyna Literacka, Kraków 1991;
- Hanemann, Marabut, Gdańsk 1995;
- Esther, Tytuł, Gdańsk 1999;
- Wspólna kąpiel / Shared Bath (coathor: Krystyna Lars), Tytuł, Gdańsk 2001;
- Złoty pelikan / Golden Pelican, Tytuł, Gdańsk 2003;
- Kartki z dziennika / Pages from a Notebook, Tytuł, Gdańsk 2004;
- Żona prezydenta / The President's Wife, Tytuł, Gdańsk 2005;
- Dolina Radości / Happiness Valley, Tytuł, Gdańsk 2006;
- Dziennik dla dorosłych / Diary for Adults, Tytuł, Gdańsk 2008;
- Panna Ferbelin / Miss Feberlin, Tytuł, Gdańsk 2011;
- Miłość we Wrocławiu (Love in Wrocław, coauthor), Kraków, EMG, 2011;
- Srebrzysko: Powieść dla dorosłych (Srebrzysko: A Story for Adults), Tytuł, Gdańsk 2016.
For younger readers, under the pseudonym Max Lars:
- Ludzie-skorpiony / Scorpion People, Pomorze, Bydgoszcz 1984;
- Człowiek-litera. Przygody Aleksandra Umwelta podczas akcji specjalnej w Górach Santa Cruz / The Letter Man: The Adventures of Aleksander Umwelt During the Special Operation in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Pomorze, Bydgoszcz 1989.
- English: Death in Danzig (Hanemann), trans. Philip Boehm. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004; London: Random House Secker @ Warburg, 2005; London: Vintage Books, 2006; Harvest Books, 2005;
- German: Tod in Danzig Berlin: Rowohlt, 1997; Die Gouvernante, Berlin: Rowohlt, 2000; Der goldene Pelikan, München: DTV, Ein deutsches Tagebuch, fotoTAPETA, 2015;
- Russian: Hanemann, Moscow: Mezhdunarodnaya Literatura, 1997;
- Swedish: Hanemann, Bonniers 2001; Guldpelikanen, Bonniers 2004.