European Book Club: The Mighty Angel
Where: Solas Bar, 232 East 9th Street, 2nd Floor (between Second & Third Avenues), New York, NY
To register for this session, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mighty Angel begins with its alcoholic narrator, Jerzy, having returned home from the “alco ward” for the eighteenth and final time. A beautiful July day. He’s at home, listening to a record by the Czech saxophonist Feliks Slovak, and through the window notices a “woman in a yellow dress with spaghetti straps” withdrawing money from an ATM then walking off into the distance. Smitten at once, inspired by Slovak’s saxophone and the “goodly quantity of peach vodka” in the bottle on the table, he leaves his home “prepared to scour the entire city” in search of her.
The narrative continues according to the disjointed logic of dreams and benders, in what critic Maria Janion calls its “wonderful, delirious and baroque style.” Jerzy describes the various other denizens of the alco ward: Don Juan the Rib, Simon Pure Goodness, Christopher Columbus the Explorer, the Queen of Kent, the Hero of Socialist Labor, et al., as well as Doctor Granada, Nurse Viola, and the therapist Moses Alias I Alcohol, and recounts their various adventures. He dips into reminiscences about his Lutheran grandfather, Old Kubica, and the heroically alcoholic family doctor of his childhood, Dr. Swobodziczka, as well as memories of his various ex-girlfriends: Joanna Catastrophe, Barb the Broker, the Seductive Movie Star, and the Utterly Irresponsible Minx. But the object of his devotion throughout the book continues to be the “woman in the yellow dress,” and as much as this book is a funny and provocative rumination on unrepentant alcoholism and its relationship to literature, it is likewise a bittersweet negotiation of love and the capacity (and incapacity) to change.
The Mighty Angel was awarded Poland’s prestigious NIKE Literary Award in 2001. Exquisitely translated by Bill Johnston, it is one of the strongest and most representative works of recent Polish literature to be made available in English. Open Letter Books will publish the novel in April 2009. An excerpt can be read now at the Pen America website.
About the Author
JERZY PILCH is one of Poland’s most important contemporary writers. In addition to his 20-year career as a columnist for two of Poland’s best known weeklies (Tygodnik Powszechny and Polityka) Pilch has published over a dozen books and won Poland’s prestigious NIKE Literary Award in 2001 for The Mighty Angel. Public intellectual and provocateur, Pilch has written novels, essays, and most recently drama, that poke fun at various aspects of contemporary Polish society: the Krakow art scene, the world of writers, the cult around Pope John Paul, etc. He is a master stylist whom no less an authority than Czeslaw Milosz deemed “the hope of young Polish prose.” His novels have been translated into many languages, but he has only one other work so far available in English, His Current Woman (Northwestern University Press, 2002).
About the Translator
Bill Johnston is Associate Professor of Linguistics and Comparative Literature at Indiana University and Director of the Polish Studies Center there. Recipient in 2008 of the first Found in Translation Award for his translation of Tadeusz Rozewicz’s New Poems (Archipelago Books, 2007), Johnston has translated three books by Magdalena Tulli, Witold Gombrowicz’s Bacacay, Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski’s The Noonday Cemetery and Other Stories, Andrzej Stasiuk’s Nine, and Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki’s poetry collection Peregrinary, and many other books.
Remarks and Reviews
About The Mighty Angel:
“[The Mighty Angel] is another entry in the Polish national ‘spiritiad’ of literature about drinking. Pilch masterfully plays with the tradition of the drunkard novel, demonstrating just how close the alcoholic’s self-fashioning is to the writer’s self-narration. In this way, Pilch’s novel constitutes an act of belief in literature.
The book’s wonderful, delirious and baroque style imparts the experience of dependence, exclusion, and loneliness, as well as the overcoming of loneliness through love.” -Literary critic and scholar Maria Janion, head of the jury for the 2001 NIKE Literary Award
“In this book, Pilch prattles on and on remorselessly in his masterly way, bends the reader’s ear, fills the mind, grips the attention-and before you know where you are, you’ve reached the end of the book.” -Lech Mergler
About His Current Women:
Review of Contemporary Fiction: “That this novel is truly hilarious at times is just a bonus. Pilch is a wonderfully descriptive writer, and we can hope that the rest of his body of work comes into English soon. His Current Woman is an enjoyable little book that whets the appetite for more.”