Tag Archives: NIKE Literary Prize

Recent Polish literature news…

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.).

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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).

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Olga Tokarczuk novel nominated for Leipzig Book Fair prize (after nabbing NIKE Award in 2008)

Esther Kinsky’s German translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s 2007 novel BIEGUNI (The Runners—translated into German as UNRAST—Restlessness) has just been nominated for the 2009 Translation Award of the Leipzig Book Fair.

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Published by the Kraków-based Wydawnictwo Literackie in 2007, BIEGUNI won the 2008 NIKE Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Poland. The book is, in the Polish Book Institute’s words:

…a collection of longer, shorter and extremely brief stories, [that] forms a carefully thought-out whole and is very artfully constructed. The theme of the stories is a way of life that involves non-stop travelling.

Schöffling & Co. released Kinsky’s translation on 11 March. Here’s a quick translation of the copy from their website:

A woman and her young son mysteriously disappear while on vacation; an Orthodox sect keeps wandering from one place to the next in their attempt to elude the devil; the female narrator is permanently on the move: in her new book RESTLESSNESS, the eminent Polish author Olga Tokarczuk deals with the wanderlust and nomadism of modern humans. Traversing a range of genres, from travelogue to mythological fable to philosophical observation, she captures the hectic pace of modern life in a finely woven narrative universe and irresistibly delightful prose.

The original is 297 pages. Translation rights are held by the Dutch publisher De Geus. Andrew Leader has very generously translated into English an interview with Tokarczuk about the book and made it available on his great Polish Writing site.

With seven books in German, Tokarczuk has quite a following there, but is unfortunately little known in English. Antonia Lloyd-Jones’s translation of her HOUSE OF DAY, HOUSE OF NIGHT was published by Granta Books in the UK and Northwestern UP in the US. But aside from that one book, her English incarnation is available mainly in periodicals, most online. Words Without Borders has published two short pieces of hers, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Jennifer Croft respectively. Polish Writing has published another story translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones as well as an excerpt of House of Day, House of Night and two interesting interviews. Chicago Review published a story translated by Kim Jastremski in its 2000 Polish issue.

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Olga Tokarczuk will be reading tonight (actually, given the time difference, she’s probably reading as I’m writing this) in the Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig. It is the last of four “author evenings” sponsored by the Polish Book Institute. The three previous ones featured Magdalena Tulli (well known here through Bill Johnston’s translations for Archipelago), Sylwia Chutnik (a young author who was just awarded Polityka Magazine’s Paszport Prize for her book THE POCKET ATLAS OF WOMEN), and another young authoress named Katarzyna Sowula.

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The other books nominated for the Leipzig Book Fair translation prize are listed here. True to the pattern of international translation written about recently on the Three Percent blog, three of the five nominees are translations from English (Maeve Brennan’s The Springs of Affection; Burroughs’s Naked Lunch; and Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift), one is from Spanish (Don Quixote), and Tokarczuk. All inequities aside, that’s not bad company at all.