Interview with Pornografia translator Danuta Borchardt on PRI’s The World

Danuta Borchardt talks with Bill Marx on PRI’s December World Books podcast about Witold Gombrowicz and her experience translating not just the recently published Pornografia, but Cosmos and Ferdydurke as well. She mentions the possibility of retranslating Transatlantyk and translating his Peregrinations in Argentina (excerpts of which have been published in Words without Borders). The informative half-hour podcast is downloadable and definitely worth a listen (ideally with a crackling fire in the background, snowdrifts and fir trees outside the window, and a mug of mulled wine or cider in hand… Happy Holidays!).

Special Polish literature offer from Archipelago!

Don’t pass up this stunning holiday offer from Archipelago Books: All 5 of their Polish literature titles for only $45, shipping included. That’s almost 50% less than their total retail price. Seriously folks, Polish books haven’t been this affordable since 1989. Here’s what you’ll get:

Translated by the genial Bill Johnston and beautifully produced by Archipelago, these books are already classics of Polish literature in English. Click here for descriptions. To order, please email the publisher directly at: info @ archipelagobooks . org or from their contact page. If you’re not already familiar with Archipelago’s work, a perusal of their website and catalogue is definitely worth while. Also, please consider making a donation to Archipelago, so that more great literature from around the world can find its way to English-language readers.

(Addendum, 29 December 2009: this intriguing Croatian blog just posted a useful compendium of brief reviews and responses to Tulli’s three books with Archipelago: http://zorosko.blogspot.com. I had no idea of the resonance she’s had among U.S. poets, especially. Other authors whose reception is likewise digested include Schulz, Pessoa, Gert Jonke, Merce Rodoreda, Abdourahman Waberi, and James Tate — an eclectic and delightful canon.)

Holiday Books!

If you’re still looking for the perfect gift for that special Polish-literature-and-culture enthusiast in your life (or for yourself for that matter), then look no further than this list of new fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, academic, and children’s books!

FICTION

THE LAST SUPPER
Paweł Huelle
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Serpent’s Tail, December 2009
Paper, 256 pp., $14.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Winner of the 2009 Found in Translation Award!

Set in Gdańsk in the near future, twelve men have been invited to model for a modern, photographic version of The Last Supper, but their meeting is disturbed as a terrorist attack paralyzes the city…

“Huelle’s erudite writing bestows a mordant wit on even the weightiest subject matter… his prose has an other-worldly quality.” – Financial Times

PORNOGRAFIA
Witold Gombrowicz
translated by Danuta Borchardt
Grove Press, November 2009
Cloth, 176 pp., $23.00

Indiebound / Amazon

First translation directly from Polish of this modernist masterpiece!

“Gombrowicz’s strange, bracing final novel probes the divide between young and old while providing a grotesque evocation of obsession.” – Publishers Weekly

“As terrifying as the characters are in their calculation, Gombrowicz’s agile pen dilutes the tragedy with a lightness that only the best can master.” – Salonica World Lit

THE MIGHTY ANGEL
Jerzy Pilch
translated by Bill Johnston
Open Letter Books, April 2009
Cloth, 155 pp., $15.95

Indiebound / Amazon

A recovering alcoholic, just back from the alco ward, spies a beautiful woman outside his window one day. What follows is a stylistically brilliant, postmodern diary of addiction, recovery, and love…

“Pilch’s prose is masterful, and the bulk of The Mighty Angel evokes the same numb, floating sensation as a bottle of Żołądkowa Gorzka.” – L Magazine

NONFICTION

THE WALL IN MY HEAD: WORDS & IMAGES FROM THE FALL OF THE IRON CURTAIN
edited by Words without Borders
Open Letter, November 2009
Paper, 231 pp., $15.95

Indiebound / Amazon

The Wall in My Head is an exciting anthology of texts and images by writers and artists who witnessed the collapse of Communism firsthand and by those who grew up in its wake. The collection features Polish authors Zbigniew Herbert, Paweł Huelle, Ryszard Kapuściński, Dorota Masłowska, and Andrzej Stasiuk, along with a host of others, including Mircea Cărtărescu, Milan Kundera, and Dubravka Ugresić.

“Personal recollection and reflection can provide readers with a deeper understanding of an event. This anthology of mostly Eastern European fiction, essays, images, and historical documents… does this exceptionally well.” – Library Journal

TOWERS OF STONE: THE BATTLE OF WILLS IN CHECHNYA
Wojciech Jagielski
translated by Soren Gauger
Seven Stories Press, October 2009
Paper, 352 pp., $19.95

Indiebound / Amazon

“[Towers of Stone] brings to life the danger, squalor and misery of daily life in Chechnya with almost unbearable clarity.” – The Economist

“Wojciech Jagielski has already achieved recognition for his reporting from the most inflamed points on our globe. [This latest work] will only confirm his reputation.” – Ryszard Kapuściński

FADO
Andrzej Stasiuk
translated by Bill Johnston
Dalkey Archive Press, September 2009
Paper, 176 pp., $13.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Andrzej Stasiuk travels to places no tourist would think of visiting, and in this characteristically lyrical book of travel essays, lays out his own unique and challenging perspective on the fascinating, unknown heart of Central Europe.

“Stasiuk, exploring a region that so many have assumed to be irresistibly converging with the West, has mapped what Freud might have called its ‘genetic memory.’” – Benjamin Moser, Harper’s Magazine

LIKE EATING A STONE: SURVIVING THE PAST IN BOSNIA
by Wojciech Tochman
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Atlas & Co., September 2008
Cloth, 176 pp., $20.00

Indiebound / Amazon

“In the spare and bleak Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia, the Polish journalist Wojciech Tochman chronicles the aftermath of war in Bosnia and, if anything, confirms that the so-called peace has brought little actual peace. Yet he is not polemical about this point; instead, he relies on suggestive details, pungent quotes and simple, understated prose.” – The New York Times

POETRY

THE NEW CENTURY: POEMS
Ewa Lipska
translated by Robin Davidson & Ewa Elzbieta Nowakowska
Northwestern University Press, November 2009
Paper, 96 pp., $18.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Surreal, skeptical, and laced with wit, Ewa Lipska’s poetry, like that of Miłosz and Szymborska, achieves a hard-won and gracefully wielded authority, combining an awe of beauty with a skepticism of language’s ability to ameliorate human experience. This book brings her work to readers in a fresh, new English translation.

POLAND’S ANGRY ROMANTIC: TWO POEMS AND A PLAY BY JULIUSZ SLOWACKI
Juliusz Słowacki
edited and translated by Peter Cochran, Bill Johnston, Miroslawa Modrzewska, and Catherine O’Neil
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, November 2009

Indiebound / Amazon

This volume provides new translations of three works by one of Poland’s most important Romantic authors, Juliusz Słowacki: the popular play Balladina, the meditative poem Agamemnon’s Tomb, and the hilarious mock-epic Beniowski. An informative introduction by Peter Cochran is included.

THEY CARRY A PROMISE: SELECTED POEMS
Janusz Szuber
translated by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough
Knopf, May 2009
Cloth, 112 pp., $26.00

Indiebound / Amazon

“Careful, profound and much celebrated in Poland, Szuber seems the logical heir, in some ways, of Czeslaw Miłosz…. [representing] not the new voice of postcommunist Poland, but the last flowering of the world-class lyric gifts – allegorical, pious, careful, self-estranged — that grew up in the shadow of the Iron Curtain.” – Publishers Weekly

“Szuber’s poetry speaks to the hard part of the soul.” – Zbigniew Herbert

BEEN AND GONE: SELECTED POEMS
Julian Kornhauser
translated by Piotr Florczyk, with a foreword by Adam Zagajewski
Marick Press, April 2009
Paper, 75 pp., $14.95

Amazon

A major figure in Polish poetry, Kornhauser started his career in the New Wave movement of the 1970s with Adam Zagajewski, Stanisław Barańczak, and Ryszard Krynicki. This long-overdue selection from his recent poetry is his first book to appear in English.

“I’m amazed by the continuity of [Kornhauser’s] writing, by the honesty of his poetry, by his patient worship of the concreteness of the world.” – Adam Zagajewski

ETERNAL ENEMIES
Adam Zagajewski
translated by Clare Cavanagh
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, February 2009
Paper, 128 pp., $14.00

Indiebound / Amazon

“Poetry and thinking for Zagajewski have to do with learning how to see clearly. His poems celebrate those rare moments when we catch a glimpse of a world from which all labels have been unpeeled.” – Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books

PEREGRINARY
by Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki
Bilingual edition, translated by Bill Johnston
Zephyr Press, November 2008
Paper, 148 pp., $14.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Tkaczyszyn-Dycki is one of Poland’s most original and important younger poets. Trained by twin muses, Thanatos and Eros, his is a voice at once resonant of the long European tradition of elegy, rooted in regional (Ukrainian) folk traditions, and alive to contemporary Polish reality. Winner of the 2009 NIKE Award, Poland’s most prestigious literary prize.

IN PRAISE OF THE UNFINISHED
by Julia Hartwig
translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter
Knopf, March 2008
Cloth, 160 pp., $25.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Hailed by Czesław Miłosz as “the grande dame of Polish poetry,” Julia Hartwig has long been considered the gold standard of poetry in her native Poland. With this career-spanning collection, we finally have a book of her work in English.

“For all her topical interest Hartwig is finally a poet of enduring consolation, measured reassurance and scenic clarity.” — Publishers Weekly

DRAMA

PLAYWRIGHTS BEFORE THE FALL: EASTERN EUROPEAN DRAMA IN TIMES OF REVOLUTION
edited by Daniel Gerould
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications, November 2009
Paper, 411 pp., $20.00

TCG Bookstore

This first multi-author international anthology of Eastern European plays to appear in English includes Sławomir Mrożek’s Portrait, as well as plays by Karel Steigerwald, Gyorgy Spiró, Matei Vişniec, and Dušan Jovanović.

ZAPOLSKA’S WOMEN: THREE PLAYS: MALKA SZWARCENKOPF, THE MAN, AND MISS MALICZEWSKA
Gabriela Zapolska
edited and translated by Teresa Murjas
Intellect Books, October 2009
Paper, 192 pp., $30.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Gabriela Zapolska (1857-1921) was an actor, journalist, and one of Poland’s foremost modernist playwrights. In over thirty plays, she uncompromising explorer of gender construction and class oppression in fin-de-siècle Poland. This informative collection of groundbreaking plays and scholarly essays on them by Teresa Murjas will introduce an English-speaking audience to Zapolska’s important work.

BIOGRAPHY, MEMOIR, SCHOLARLY & GENERAL NONFICTION

BETWEEN FIRE AND SLEEP: ESSAYS ON MODERN POLISH POETRY
by Jarosław Anders
Yale University Press, April 2009
Cloth, 224 pp., $35.00

Indiebound / Amazon

In this insightful book, Jarosław Anders looks at how the major works of 20th-century Polish literature constantly transformed historical experience into the metaphysical, philosophical, or religious exploration of human existence.

“If Anders’s essays do not aspire to a complete play-by-play of Polish literature’s last century, they at least offer the most focused and entertaining highlights reel I’ve seen.” – Benjamin Paloff, The Nation


ADAM MICKIEWICZ: THE LIFE OF A ROMANTIC
by Roman Koropeckyj
Cornell University Press, November 2008
Cloth, 549 pp., $45.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), Poland’s national bard, was one of the extraordinary personalities of the age. Roman Koropeckyj draws a portrait of the Polish poet as a quintessential European Romantic. This richly illustrated biography – the first scholarly biography of the poet to be published in English since 1911– draws extensively on diaries, memoirs, correspondence, and the poet’s literary texts to make sense of a life as sublime as it was tragic.

THE PEASANT PRINCE: THADDEUS KOSCIUSZKO AND THE AGE OF REVOLUTION
Alex Storozynski
Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin’s Press, April 2009
Cloth, 384 pp., $29.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Thaddeus Kosciuszko (1746-1817) was a hero of both the American Revolution and the Polish independence movement, a champion of the abolition of slavery, and a friend and correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. This definitive and exhaustively researched biography fills a long-standing gap in historical literature with its account of this dashing and inspiring revolutionary figure.

“…a sweeping, colorful, and absorbing biography that should restore Kosciuszko to his proper place in history.” – Andrew Nagorski, Newsweek


THE MERMAID AND THE MESSERSCHMITT: WAR THROUGH A WOMAN’S EYES, 1939–1940
Rulka Langer
Aquila Polonica, September 2009
Cloth, 468 pp., $29.95

Indiebound / Amazon

First published in 1942 by the Polish emigre publishing house Roy, Rulka Langer’s memoir is finally available again in this new, illustrated edition.

“An unusual take on WWII … a rare eyewitness account of the war’s early, chaotic days – the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Siege of Warsaw and the first few months of Nazi occupation – written by Rulka Langer, a civilian, a young Polish career woman and mother and a graduate of Vassar College.” – Publishers Weekly

CHOPIN’S POLISH BALLADE: OP. 38 AS NARRATIVE OF NATIONAL MARTYRDOM
Jonathan D. Bellman
Oxford University Press, October 2009
Cloth, 219 pp., $40.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Chopin’s Second Ballade, Op. 38 is frequently performed, yet remains very poorly understood – disagreement prevails on issues from its tonic and two-key structure to its posited relationship with the poems of the great Romantic bard Adam Mickiewicz. Chopin’s Polish Ballade is a reexamination and close analysis of this famous work, revealing the Ballade as a piece with a powerful political story to tell.

“Ingenious, entertaining, and convincing – Jonathan Bellman’s book deftly demonstrates how the study of a single piece of music can open a new window onto an entire cultural world.” – Kenneth Hamilton

GROTOWSKI’S EMPTY ROOM: A CHALLENGE TO THE THEATRE
edited by Paul Allain
Seagull Books, November 2009
Cloth, 224 pp., $29.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Jerzy Grotowski (1933–99), considered one of the most important and influential theatre practitioners of the 20th century, was a Polish stage director, theatrical theorist, and founder and director of the famous Polish Laboratory Theatre. Most of Grotowski’s theater-making took place in this and similar small theaters and studio spaces, and as a result one of his central fascinations was the actor’s work within the context of an empty room. The essays in Grotowski’s Empty Room analyze how Grotowski’s explorations in the theater continue to challenge dramatists and directors.

PERFORMATIVE DEMOCRACY
Elżbieta Matynia
Paradigm Publishers (Yale Cultural Sociology Series, October 2009
Paper, 216 pp., $28.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Spanning Polish history from the days of incipient rebellion against Communist rule through the Solidarity movement of the 1980s to today’s democratic Poland, Performative Democracy sheds new light on what it is people are doing when they act democratically. Even as Matynia, who participated in many of the events she describes, elucidates their common features, she captures and infectiously renders their exhilarating atmosphere and spirit to the reader. – Jonathan Schell

REDISCOVERING TRACES OF MEMORY: THE JEWISH HERITAGE OF POLISH GALICIA
Jonathan Webber
photographs by Chris Schwarz
Indiana University Press, October 2009
Paper, 192 pp., $27.95

Indiebound / Amazon

In this remarkable album, 74 stunning color photographs bear witness to the great Jewish civilization that once flourished in Polish Galicia. Captions and detailed notes explain and contextualize the photographs. An invaluable sourcebook.

“A moving account of what is being done to preserve the memory of what was lost and of the people, both Poles and Jews, involved in this important undertaking.” – Antony Polonsky

CHILDREN

LITTLE CHOPIN
by Michał Rusinek
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, 2009
Cloth, 32 pp., $21.95

Polish Arts Center

This children’s book tells the story of little Frycek Chopin in rhymed verse, with full-color illustrations by Joanna Rusinek. A wonderful gift for the budding musician or composer in your family!

Miron Białoszewski: “An explosion in American poetry!”

More news from The Quarterly Conversation (which I’m considering making my homepage): editors Scott Esposito and Annie Janusch surveyed over 40 translators, writers, and editors as to what books and or authors they feel most urgently need to be translated into English. The results are wondrous to behold and I hope will have some very direct effects. For his choice, poet, translator, and Words without Borders poetry editor Ilya Kaminsky selected Miron Białoszewski (1922–1983)—the second (after Leśmian) most difficult-to-translate Polish poet, whom Benjamin Paloff dubbed the “holy grail of Polish translators” at Poets House last month, and who indeed needs urgently to be represented in English, and not just by his poetry. Well, there is interest; but who knows from what quarters it will happen and when. At any rate, the whole “Translate This Book!” survey can be downloaded as a pdf and is both worthwhile and necessary reading. In the meantime, here’s some of what Kaminsky has to say:

Poems of Miron Białoszewski is the book I hope to one day hold in my hands. A great post-war Polish poet, Białoszewski wrote work radically different from that of his contemporaries—Miłosz, Świr, Kamieńska, Herbert, and Szymborska—but his poetry was just as powerful and important to the development of the contemporary European lyric … When I mentioned [him] to Tomaž Šalamun in a recent conversation, Tomaž’s face lit up: “Białoszewski, when he is translated and available in English, will cause an explosion in American poetry!” One hopes so.

The ignition for that explosion may take place very soon, in fact. The next issue of the excellent poetry magazine Aufgabe will feature a special section on innovative Polish poetry, guest edited by Mark Tardi and due out this spring. From what I’ve heard, it will include a sizeable number of Białoszewski’s poems, both newly translated and reprinted from the 1974 volume translated by Bogdan Czaykowski and Andrzej Busza.

Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities

The Quarterly Conversation has a great short essay by Matthew Jakubowski on Jerzy Pilch’s novel A Thousand Peaceful Cities (Tysiąc spokojnych miast, Wydawnictwo Literackie 1997), which Open Letter will publish in summer 2010 in a translation not by Bill Johnston, but by David Frick, who is better known as a scholar of Polish Baroque literature, among other specialties, and as Chair of Berkeley’s Slavic Department. This is surprising, but great news. Johnston no doubt has enough on his plate, what with his translation of Wiesław Myśliwski’s magnum opus Stone Upon Stone due out from Archipelago next year; and Polish literature needs more translators. TQC also includes an excerpt from the book, which as Jakubowski describes, is “a coming-of-age story set in the small southern Polish town of Wisla during Soviet rule in the 1960s” and is “narrated by a boy named Jerzy at age twelve or thirteen, with the occasional shift in perspective to show Pilch commenting as an adult on his memories as an adolescent.”

(Note [19 December 2009]: as editor E.J. Van Lanen comments here, Open Letter will be publishing a fourth book by Pilch in 2011, also translated by David Frick.)

“A very stupid, a very dull debate”: Werner Herzog weighs in on Kapuściński’s handling of the facts

Slate posted an interview with Werner Herzog yesterday in which the German film director’s narrative techniques are compared to those of Polish reportage author Ryszard Kapuściński.

Jacob Weisberg: … of course there are elements of fiction in your nonfiction films.

Werner Herzog: Sure, of course. I stylize, I invent, I do things the accountants of truth would not do. But I’m a storyteller.

J.W.: It’s very apparent in your films, to someone who has seen a lot of them, when there’s a moment of fiction that you’re using for some sort of dramatic purpose. It’s interesting to compare you to Ryszard Kapuściński, the Polish writer. There’s been a lot of debate about his use of fiction in nonfiction work.

W.H.: And it’s a very stupid, a very dull debate, because he’s a great storyteller, and what he does—and I am, by the way, doing a very similar thing—he intensifies truth by invention. By dint of declaration he creates something which gives you a much deeper insight into the truth of, let’s say, Africa or Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, and it’s totally legitimate and the debate is very, very silly. Let the accountants be happy with their debate. I’m not going to participate.

This is pretty much the same view that emerged out of the discussions about Kapuściński during the two-day symposium held in October by the Polish Cultural Institute, the NBCC, the New York Institute for the Humanities, and the new Literary Reportage concentration at NYU’s journalism school, among others. Unfortunately, the “very, very silly” ambivalence about Kapuściński in the U.S. continues to have very, very real consequences. And the specific discussion to which Weisberg refers, Morgan Meis’s “idle chatter,” is not only idle but harmful and sad, as Meis does not limit himself to questioning the Polish journalist’s veracity, but assumes that the accusation of Kapuściński’s collaboration with the Polish secret service (an accusation that has been called into question both publicly and in print by recent biographers) can be passed on unproblematically, without any discussion of the complexity involved in every interaction between state intelligence and everyday citizens in the Soviet bloc, or anywhere for that matter. (As Anna Bikont points out, Kapuściński may have sent in reports to the secret service, but a perusal of those reports reveals that he deliberately provided them with useless information.)

Herzog’s comments make one thing clear: there is probably no better litmus test for someone’s sympathies with the “accountants” or the “declarers” (and explorers) of truth than his or her position on Kapuściński (provided, of course, that the person in question has even read him). Why it is Kapuściński who regularly generates such ambivalence in the U.S. and not, say, Bruce Chatwin, is an interesting question. Maybe it has something to do with all those consonants and funny letters.

As for an extended complex and intelligent discussion about the Polish writer’s work, here is the National Book Critics Circle’s post of video coverage of Part III of “After Kapuściński: The Art of Reportage in the 21st Century,” a panel moderated by Robert Boynton and featuring Breyten Breytenbach, Ted Conover, Klara Glowczewska, Wiktor Osiatyński, and David Samuels, which dealt with Kapuściński’s legacy today.

From left: Breytenbach, Conover, Samuels, Glowczewska, Osiatyński, Boynton

Michał Witkowski published in Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2010

PRI’s The World published an interview today with Aleksandar Hemon, editor of Dalkey Archive’s new Best European Fiction 2010. Among the incredibly rich array of work included in the anthology is an excerpt from Michał Witkowski’s acclaimed novel Lubiewo (soon to be published in the UK as Lovetown by Portobello Books—the publisher that also just scored Herta Müller’s remarkable latest novel Atemschaukel). Witkowski’s piece, which is one of the few passages in his book to work as an autonomous short story, concerns the abject and almost comical fortunes of a teenaged, Slovak male prostitute in Vienna—an experience that is emblematic of the fraught class dynamic between post-communist Eastern and Western Europe, but that like much of the book also has a documentary or biographical source. (Full disclosure: I’m the translator.) The anthology—which owes its life to the industry of Dalkey Archive editor Jeremy Davies—was reviewed, briefly, in the Wall Street Journal; Hemon was also recently interviewed about it on the New York Times books blog; and he will appear at Symphony Space in New York next month for a reading/performance of stories from the book.

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