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When I talk about Polish books people often tell me they are depressing, and assume they are mostly about the Second World War. And there’s a grain of truth in that reaction. Poles, with their turbulent and often tragic history, have not had an easy ride. The recent presidential plane crash, in which all 96 people on board were killed, was another powerful blow. Poland’s accession to the European Union in May 2004 resulted in a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Poles which kicked off the ‘Stay With Us’ campaign back in Poland to counteract the brain drain of young and educated Poles. But Poland is a nation of proud and resilient people, of people who forge new paths with surprising ease, a land of contradictions.In preparation for this issue Litro launched a short story competition inspired by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz, in association with the Polish Cultural Institute in London. I had the great pleasure of working with one of the judges of this competition—Tasja Dorkofikis.
This month’s Polish issue brings a fascinating collection of diverse texts from authors who live in both Poland and abroad, each offering a glimpse of a very different and unforgettable world. One of the most exciting aspects of the pieces included in this issue are the intriguing new ways Polish authors engage with the vastness of human experience in the context of the past and, unsurprisingly, the new migrant existence.
Tadeusz Różewicz is considered one of the greatest, most innovative Polish authors. His Mother Departs, devoted to his dying mother Stefania, won the NIKE Prize, often called the Polish Booker, in 2000. What makes a poet? What is the meaning of life and death?—these are the questions Różewicz ponders.
Novelist Zygmunt Miłoszewski is the new star in Polish crime fiction and the prosecutor Teodor Szacki’s relentless pursuit of the killer in A Grain of Truth will keep you awake at night. Miłoszewski is also a double winner of the High Calibre Award for the Best Polish Crime Novel. Be scared. Be very scared!
Paweł Huelle tells the absorbing story of his family through their cars in the very witty Mercedes-Benz. Illustrated with personal photographs, Huelle packs this short book with funny and tender stories. Mercedes-Benz will stay with you long after you have read it.
The beautifully crafted poetry of Wioletta Grzegorzewska mesmerises with its observations of the human spirit. The poetess, who settled on the Isle of Wight, navigates her existence between Poland and her new home in the UK.
Grażyna Plebanek’s tantalising Illegal Liaisons breaks down barriers with its thrilling descriptions of sex and acute observations of life in Brussels where the author resides. A father, husband and a writer caught in a relationship with two women. Need I say more?
Jacek Dehnel’s fictionalised version of the lives of Francisco Goya, his son Javier and grandson Mariano reveals a fascinating portrait of one of the greatest artists of the late 18th and early 19th century. Here’s a story of hate, jealousy and manipulation between a genius father and his son.
A poet’s confession, gruesome crime, the perseverance of human spirit, illicit sex, family history and a glimpse at the underworld of cannabis production—a collection of texts that will surprise and, I hope, delight you, from a land of astonishing contradictions. Enjoy!
A.M. Bakalar, Guest Editor, June 2013