Iwona Chmielewska’s latest book is a multilingual illustrated dictionary about German culture, and an ambitious graphic alphabet that takes the audience into the world of art, literature, science and philosophy.
The book's words, characters, and letters seem to be waiting in front of Sigmund Freud’s office, flowing out of Brecht and Goethe’s books, and jumping on top of Bach’s sheet music and Cologne's cathedral rooftops. Our tour guides through the Polish-French-English-German sentences are well-known figures in the world of culture, art and science: the brothers Grimm, Max Ernst, and Albert Einstein. We also meet Pina Bausch, Mozart’s family, Joseph Beuys, Leibnitz, and many more. In the preface of the book, the artist renowned worldwide for her illustrations writes:
Regelinda – a smiling Polish girl from the cathedral in Naumburg. You will find her in this book. As a Pole, I also smile at the not so foreign language and culture that is close to me. I owe a lot to my grandmother Hulda Jaeger, who taught me German poems and sung Stille Nacht to sleep, not only in winter. She was a simple weaver from Łódź, but you will find her in this book too. Granny, you probably didn’t expect this.
The latest book by Iwona Chmielewska – author of numerous literary successes, among others Eyes/Oczy, which was awarded a Bologna Ragazzi Award (the 'illustrator's Oscar') – is at the same time a gesture towards German culture and a story about European history and identity. The publishing house calls it ‘a thinking alphabet’, enriched by the linguistic context of French, English and Polish, which makes it a universal publication and accessible to readers of all ages. It sucks you into an intellectual game which is entertaining due to its associations. Justyna Sobolewska recommends the book to adults rather than children in Polityka:
Mainly adults will appreciate the subtle allusions and sense of humour. The new book is an illustrated Polish-French-English-German dictionary and at the same time a tribute to German culture. It is adults who will notice the word play in these collages, like Leipzig and Leibniz. Or the two men from Friedrich’s painting, who are walking away into the fog on the page marked ‘holidays’, or Rilke with a rose. Children on the other hand can enjoy the amazing illustrations much like a 19th-century German encyclopaedia. You can also treat this book as an introduction to art, and all in four languages at once.
As the publishing house stresses, the book is deliberately published in Wrocław – a city with a multicultural tradition, whose German history was suppressed by inhabitants for decades, yet is indeed permanently present in the urban tissue.
Author: AL., July 2015, Translated by: Zuzanna Wiśniewska, July 2015