Some Thoughts on Polish Literature [1]

I was recently a guest of the Polish Book Institute in Kraków, Poland, where I saw the wonderful Conrad Festival that is conducted in that city every year, as well as a lot of Polish publishers doing very interesting work.

Some of this I wrote about for a recent piece in Literary Hub, and some of it I’m going to write about in this space. I think I’m going to have to do it in true lazy blogger style, which will mean writing about it bit by bit over the course of a while. But I think it’s very worthwhile stuff to talk about, and there are so many worthy authors that have not had the chance of being published in English, so I hope you all will be interested to read about this. And the publishers out there should want to publish more of these books.

Kraków was the seventh UNESCO City of Literature, and there is quite a bit going on in this city. A couple of the key authors that I heard about on this trip, Hanna Krall and Olga Tokarczuk, have had some books in English, although perhaps not with the reception they deserve. Tokarczuk, who is often described as Poland’s leading author, and whom some mentioned as a future Nobel candidate, has only two books in English. They are House of Day, House of Night, which came out in 2003 with Northwestern University Press, and Primeval and Other Times, which came out a while ago with Twisted Spoon and has recently gotten a U.S. release of sorts. There are still many other books of hers to be translated, including her enormous The Books of Jacob (which I discuss in the Lit Hub piece), and Runners, which Jennifer Croft has received two grants to translate.

Hanna Krall, whom many consider the leading living writer in Poland’s nonfiction reportage genre, has scattered a number of books in English, although i do not think any of them has managed significant regard. The most recent in the U.S. was The Woman from Hamburg: and Other True Stories from Other Press in 2006. In 2017 Feminist Press will publish Chasing the King of Hearts, which many people told me is her masterpiece. Peirene Press published it a couple of years ago in the UK, and if you’re living somewhere else you can illegally buy a copy from a 3rd-party vendor on Amazon.

If you’re itching to see more of this reportage genre face to face, Seven Stories has just published Burning the Grass by the noted writer Wojciech Jagielski, translated by the remarkable Antonia Lloyd-Jones. This is a book about South African apartheid, and frankly I’m quite eager to see the Polish perspective on apartheid and the resistance movement, given everything that nation has endured in its history.

There are so many more titles in this genre that have never been translated. I’d like to share a few of them in a future post. But for now, perhaps these two authors will suffice if you’re interested in learning more.

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Looking forward to hearing more. I’ve lately been brushing up on my Polish by reading Gombrowicz, but I have no idea where to start when it comes to contemporary Polish writers. Thanks for the recommendations.


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