Category: Poland

Olga Tokarczuk: Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times)

The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times). This is the second of Tokarczuk’s novels published in English. It tells the story of a quasi-mythological village in Poland called Primeval. The village has fairly precise geographical coordinates but does not exist in real life. We follow the Niebieski family and their relatives from 1914 to approximately 1980. In some cases we get realistic accounts, e.g. of the two world wars and their effect on the village, and in other cases, Tokarczuk uses fantasy or magic realism to show other aspects of the village, in the way that Gabriel García Márquez does in Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years Of Solitude). The whole story mirrors the suffering that Poland has experienced during the period, from the two world wars to Communism and its corruptions. It is a superb introduction to Tokarczuk’s work.

Józef Wittlin: Sól ziemi (The Salt of the Earth)

The latest addition to my website is Józef Wittlin‘s Sól ziemi (The Salt of the Earth). This was originally published in 1935 and originally published in English in 1939 but this is a new translation. It is a World War I novel, part-mocking, part-serious. It is also the first part of a trilogy but only the first section of the second book remains, the others having been lost during World War II. We follow Piotr Niewiadomski, an illiterate, half-Polish, half-Hutsul railway worker. When World War I breaks out (we see Franz Josef signing the order), he is first promoted to acting signalman and then called up into the army. Because the Russians might be breaking through, he and his fellow conscripts are shipped off to Hungary, where we follow their hard life in a garrison (next door to the abattoir and cemetery). The first part is more mocking, both the people the area where Piotr lives but also the preparations for war, while the second part is more serious, with criticism of the cruelty of the officers and NCOs. Wittlin is clearly anti-war and puts over his point of view well but it is a pity that we do not see the men in action.

Zofia Nałkowska: Granica (Boundary)


The latest addition to my website is Zofia Nałkowska‘s Granica (Boundary). This is a superb Polish feminist novel, first published in 1935, which surprisingly has only just been translated into English, eighty years after publication. It is considered a classic in Poland and should now be recognised as one in the English-speaking world. We learn from the very first paragraph that Zenon Ziembiewicz has been killed, murdered by Justyna Bogutówna, his former lover. The novel tells us the story of how this came to happen. Zenon had been a serious young man, somewhat in love with Elżbieta Biecka, who helped her twice-widowed aunt run her large house, which had been turned into flats. Zenon goes off to Paris to study but, on return, falls for Justyna, the nineteen-year old daughter of the cook on the estate where his father works as an overseer. The affair continues on and off but Justyna gets pregnant, while Zenon, now a successful newspaper editor, is more interested in Elżbieta. The novel shows many of the women as victims of men’s cruelty, drunkenness, irresponsibility and womanising as well as showing the often desperate situation of the poor, while telling an excellent story of love gone wrong.

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