Szczepan Twardoch – Polish writer and journalist of Silesian origin.
Szczepan Twardoch – Polish writer and journalist of Silesian origin.
He was born on the 23rd of December, 1979. A sociologist and philosopher by education, as well as an expert on arms and Silesian language and culture, he deals with the issue of identifying with one’s place of birth as well as with the problem of national identity: Polish, German, Silesian.
In his works, which have a clear and logical but at the same time surprising and complicated construction, he constantly balances on the line that separates reality from fantasy, psychology from realism, true history from alternate history. The world presented in Twardoch’s books is coherent, suggestive and it provokes reflections about the world we live in.
His novel Wieczny Grunwald (Eternal Grunwald) was honoured with the distinction of the Józef Mackiewicz Literary Prize. It was also nominated for the Gwarancja Kultury award. From among the few series of stories, the volume Tak jest dobrze (It’s Good This Way) was nominated for the Gdynia Literary Prize. In 2012, the writer received a Passport award from the weekly Polityka for the novel Morfina (Morphine).
The hero of Morfina, a Varsovian and a son of a German aristocrat and a Polonised Silesian woman has a problem. The main character doesn’t know whether he is a Pole or a German. It is 1939 and this question is fundamental. Additionally, every woman he encounters makes him feel like a different person. Twardoch not only shows an unstable man influenced by women - the writer also speaks of the Polish identity, which also has a certain unstableness and weakness in it.
Wieczny Grunwald, his sixth prosaic effort, was published in 2010 and since then he has been a magnificent writer – claims Dariusz Nowacki.- But what he achieved with last years Morphine cannot simply be described in words. We received an outstanding novel (not only in my opinion) – a somewhat crazy, but above all very bold study of male weakness and of a flexible national identity. The story is set in the realities of the first month of the German occupation. I tip my hat to Twardoch!
On the grey, boring background of the identity analyses featured in Polish literature of the past years the grim grotesque of Twardoch’s Morfina shines like a gem – adds Piotr Kofta. - In this daring story about a small, unstable person that is forced to play the part of a man, hero, Pole or German, there is something reminiscent of Witkacy and Gombrowicz, but also of Konwicki in top form.
The writer also received laurels for smaller forms. His short story Obłęd rotmistrza von Egern (The Madness of Captain von Egern) was nominated for the Nautilus Award in 2003. The work finished in fourth place in a vote. Rondo (Rondo) won a Nautilus Award for best short story in 2006. For Epifania wikarego Trzaski (Vicar Trzaska’s Epiphany), the writer received a Silver Distinction of the Jerzy Żuławski Literary Award in 2008. Two years later his novel Przemienienie (Transfiguration) appeared in French.
Marcin Zwierzchowski wrote about the collection of short stories Tak jest dobrze in Polityka:
Twardoch is persistent at portraying a world filled with despair and suffering. Even if somebody laughs in this world, he or she does so through tears. There is something magnetic about these pessimistic visions. This magnetism brings to mind Cormac McCarthy, to whom Twardoch directly refers in the title story. The other works from the collection Tak jest dobrze reference the American author indirectly - through their style. The beauty of the language that Twardoch uses contrasts perfectly with the cruelty of the world, which gives the book a unique bitter-sweet flavour.
The writer constantly ponders his identity and his Silesian roots. ”Who am I? Why do I ask myself this question all the time? Instead of simply existing I look for role models , paths and ways of being – why?” –he asked in the periodical 'Znak' (1/2012):
I know I can’t limit myself to adjectives that refer to nationality, because I would be lying to myself. But I can’t pretend that I have nothing in common with them – Polish, German, Silesian. My new house is slowly settling in the sand of the fields that neighbour the once Cistercian forests. My sons walk across this sand, the slowly growing burden of responsibility forces me to think ever harder about an answer to the question ‘will I succeed?’; the experiences of so many of my peers, the experiences of those, who realised that so much is behind us already, that we are no longer standing at the gates of life, that we stand much farther and much more depends on us. There are no easy ways out, one can’t just leave everything and go away. You can’t abandon yourself so you have to get to know yourself. Neuroses, small psychoses, habits as well as our bodies - they all declare their independence.
So who am I, a Silesian, who is writing this text in Polish and not in Silesian? Who would care about such a text written in Silesian? What does Silesian mean, besides meaning very little? I’m trying to give myself an answer to this question which seems fundamental to me. I don’t know why am I trying to do this since the problem at hand concerns nobody else but me. Why even write about this?
An emigrant’s antithesis
Can you be a writer if you haven’t deprived yourself of your past, homeland and roots, if you haven’t faced life completely naked? – inquires the writer in the periodical Przekrój (18th of October 2012). To many of my friends moving comes naturally. They move all the time and they’re always kind of packed. I envy them for the fact that they are free to feel at home wherever they go, but I feel sorry for them because they don’t have a place they could call their own. I’m a writer, therefore I look at the lives of other writers. I’m especially interested in the lives of those authors who are more or less damned, close to me or unknown, such as Orbitowski or Limonow: with one suitcase, from a hotel room to a rented apartment, from under a bridge to a palace, from a palace to under a bridge, always ready to leave everything behind. When I look at their lives I think of me as of an exact opposite of a nomad. I’m a man who has settled down. I can only live in the vicinity of the graves in which my ancestors lie. I want to end up in those graves, my coffin next to the old ones.
The writer often takes part in discussions about the Silesia region. His Facebook post from 2014, in which he commented on the Supreme Court's decision that the Silesians cannot be considered a separate nation, and therefore the Association of People of Silesian Nationality (Stowarzyszenie Osób Narodowości Śląskiej) can't be registered under such a name, raised a lot of controversy.
A few hundred people are mistaken in the notion of their own ethnic identity; a judge from Warsaw know better, because that's how he was thought at school [...] Fuck you, Poland.
The prosecution was started in the case, concerning 'a public insult to the Republic of Poland.
The defiant writer, not agreeing to meet expectations, expressing himself bravely and sometimes crudely, definitely deserves interest. Interest of readers, and not usurpatory defenders of political correctness.
The King of Ring
In October 2016 Twardoch's next novel, Król / King was published. The plot begins in Warsaw two years before the outbreak of the II World War, in a Poland where totalitarian ideas are starting to emerge, during a boxing fight between a Polish boxer of the Legia club and a Jewish one from Makabi. Gangsters of the Warsaw underworld observe the match. Forty years later in Tel Aviv a retired soldier recalls this evening, during which his father was killed by the beautiful boxer, a handyman of a gangster and formerly a member of the PPS party. This essentially action plot is a mean to write about the subject that seems most important to Twardoch: about violence, not only physical.
The book is not about pre-war Warsaw, nor about Poles and Jews or the birth of fascism. It is and it was meant to be about violence. And about how people hurt each other in many sophisticated ways - not only with fists - said Twardoch in an interview with Emilia Padoł (Onet, 12.10.2016).
The author doesn't want the book to be interpreted through the lens of contemporary political situation, but reviewers - Krzysztof Varga among them - want to see in it this level as well.
I have no idea whether, when writing King, Twardoch thought about contemporary Poland, did he only plan to give us a clever intrigue with a strong historical background, or did he, maybe, organise an allusive trip into now, but I can't do much - I read King also as a story about the Poland of today - he wrote ("Gazeta Wyborcza", 06.10.2016).
- Obłęd rotmistrza von Egern (The Madness of Captain von Egern), Fabryka Słów, Lublin 2005 (collection of short stories);
- Sternberg, SuperNOWA, Warsaw 2007;
- Epifania wikarego Trzaski (Vicar Trzaska’s Epiphany), Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2007;
- Przemienienie (Transfiguration), Wydawnictwo Dębogóra, Dębogóra 2008;
- Prawem wilka (By Wolfish Law), SuperNOWA, Warsaw 2008 (collection of short stories);
- Zimne wybrzeża (Cold Shores), Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2009;
- Zabawy z bronią (Playing with Arms), Wydawnictwo Dębogóra, Dębogóra 2009;
- Wieczny Grunwald, powieść zza końca czasów (Eternal Grunwald, a Novel from Beyond the End of Time), Narodowe Centrum Kultury, Warsaw 2010;
- Wyznania prowincjusza (Confessions of a Provincial), Fronda, Warsaw 2010;
- Tak jest dobrze (It’s Good This Way), Powergraph, Warsaw 2011;
- Morfina (Morphine), Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2012;
- Drach, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków, 2014;
- Król (King), Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków, 2016.
Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, December 2012.
Translated by: Marek Kępa, January 2014