A few updates on recent goings-on in Polish literature:
This year’s NIKE Literary Award was announced on October 4. It went to Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki, the only poet among 7 finalists, for his book Piosenka o zależnościach i uzależnieniach (Song of Relationships and Addictions, Biuro Literackie 2009). Tkaczyszyn-Dycki, who was born in 1962, has over 9 books of poetry in Polish and one in English: Peregrinary, which was translated by Bill Johnston and published in 2008 by Zephyr Press.
The other finalists were: Andrzej Bart for Fabryka muchołapek (Flycatcher Factory, WAB), Inga Iwasiów for Bambino (Świat Książki), Ignacy Karpowicz for Gesty (Gestures, Wydawnictwo Literackie), Tomasz Piątek for Pałac Ostrogskich (The Ostrogski Palace, WAB), Bohdan Sławiński for Królowa tiramisu (The Queen of Tiramisu, Czarna Owca), and Krzysztof Varga for Gulasz z turula (Turul Gulash, Czarne). Of these other finalists, all but one are men, all but one were nominated for a novel (Varga’s Turul Gulash is a reportage about Hungary), and all but one already had a book or more under their belts (The Queen of Tiramisu is Sławiński’s first novel).
Andrzej Stasiuk has just published a new novel, Taksim (Czarne). Here’s a summary by critic Przemysław Czapliński from Czarne’s rights catalogue:
In his latest novel Andrzej Stasiuk tells a tale of a very last chase of capitalism. His two main heroes – Paweł, a marketeer who circulates among the bazaars of European provinces, and Włodek, his driver – suffer a symbolic and actual defeat in their encounter with the new force. Up till this moment they’d always managed to come out on top. Paweł in particular is like a knight errant of the first phase of capitalism in these parts.
Now, yesterday’s culture of short-lived products becomes a culture of one-time use. Asia invades Europe, not with an army, but with trade. It floods the continent with knockoffs, in other words merchandise the Chinese copied from Central European products that were themselves copies of Western items.
If someone has the impression that Stasiuk has created a contemporary version of the story of how “the yellow race overcomes the white race,” they will only partly be right. Stasiuk is less interested in portraying the victors in this capitalist duel of deceptions, more in showing us the losers – that is to say, the pariahs of Europe, inhabitants of its poorest regions, people condemned to a worse life because they live in a worse place. These people acquire the cheapest goods, but they themselves, especially the women, are also turned into merchandise. The only thing Western Europe exports to Central Europe is its trash, its used objects, the detritus of its development, while from there it imports male bodies for its harsher jobs and female bodies for its entertainment. In this way the strength of money and the weakness of the provinces cause the ideal of Europe to enter liquidation. And since history driven by money has no brakes, it is a liquidation that cannot be reversed.
I wonder if this book was picked up by an American publisher at Frankfurt last week. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which published Stasiuk’s novel Nine three years ago, has plans to release his book Traveling to Babadag sometime in the relatively near future. And if you haven’t yet read his amazing Fado, which came out last month with Dalkey Archive, please drop everything this minute and go out and get it.
The plot of Stasiuk’s Taksim calls to mind another recent, darkly futuristic Polish novel rooted in a topical discourse: Paweł Huelle’s The Last Supper (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones; Serpent’s Tail 2008; US edition forthcoming in December 2009). One wonders if a new catastrophism is under way in Polish fiction, a throwback to Witkacy’s apocalyptic novels of the 1930s… Here’s an excerpt of The Independent review last year, after Huelle’s novel came out in England:
The Last Supper, again [like previous novels Mercedes Benz and Castorp] centred on Gdansk, makes a small leap forward in time. Bomb attacks on liquor stores have raised the fear of jihadi militancy taking root among local Muslims (at present, they hardly exist), while others blame provocations by rival booze tycoons. The Church, via the flashy local prelate Father Monsignore (who runs his own-brand wine label), is shoring up its status via showbiz-style stunts and entrepreneurial gambits. Meanwhile, the artist Mateusz gathers a group of old friends – all veterans of the 1980s opposition circles, some thriving but others marooned in the free market – to take part in a re-enactment of the Last Supper.
The book’s first US review, in Publishers Weekly, just came out today, and is somewhat lukewarm, beginning with a caution: “American readers may struggle with this near-future novel from Polish author Huelle… a meandering meditation on contemporary Poland and Europe,” and ending with a proviso: “Those familiar with the social, political and religious issues Huelle addresses will best appreciate this challenging book.” It does, however, raise some important questions about translation, reception, and differing horizons of expectations between Poland and the U.S. (and between Poland and the U.K.).
Poet, translator, and Literatura na świecie editor Piotr Sommer is a Franke Visiting Fellow at Yale University this semester. He gave a reading together with Christian Hawkey at Symphony Space last month at the Polish Cultural Institute’s season opener, joined by members of theNew York-based ensemble The Knights, who performed settings of his and Hawkey’s poems by, respectively, Jeffrey Lependorf and Lisa Bielawa. He will be giving a reading at Yale tomorrow (20 October).