If I was on last year’s BTBA fiction panel, I would have lobbied hard for Olga Tokarczuk’s Primeval and Other Times, a fascinating book about a small Polish village, its inhabitants, and all that happens to them over the course of the twentieth century. It’s a wonderful book that’s built out of small, discrete chunks that weave together into a very interesting way.
Next Wednesday, May 25th, as part of the ongoing European Book Club, there will be a discussion of Primeval and Other Times at the New York Institute for the Humanities at Cooper Square. All the details—including how to register—can be found by clicking here. The Polish Cultural Institute also put together this page, which has more info about the book itself.
Olga Tokarczuk’s novel, Primeval and Other Times, first published in Poland in 1996, now available in an English version after having been translated into several other languages, is already regarded as a classic of East European post-Communist fiction, winning many prizes and becoming required reading for high school students in Poland. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Polish literary market was flooded with long censored works and translations of formerly forbidden literature from the US and Western Europe, and writers no longer had the Communist regime to push against, Tokarczuk represented a genuinely fresh current in Polish literature, taking a self-consciously woman-centered perspective and moving away from the old politics to consider the relation between cultural archetypes and the events of history. Young Poles in the 1990s read Tokarczuk eagerly in the way that Americans read novelists like Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Márquez during the previous decade.
The novel is set in the mythical village of Primeval in the very heart of Poland, which is populated by eccentric folk characters. The village, a microcosm of Europe, is guarded by four archangels, from whose perspective the novel chronicles the lives of Primeval’s inhabitants over the course of the 20th century. In prose that is forceful and direct, the narrative follows Poland’s tortured political history from 1914 to the contemporary era and the episodic brutality that is visited on ordinary village life.
Yet Primeval and Other Times is a novel of universal dimension that does not dwell on the parochial. A stylized fable as well as epic allegory about the inexorable grind of time, the clash between modernity (the masculine) and nature (the feminine), it has been translated into most European languages.
Tokarczuk has said of the novel: I always wanted to write a book such as this. One that creates and describes a world. It is the story of a world that, like all things living, is born, develops, and then dies. Kitchens, bedrooms, childhood memories, dreams and insomnia, reminiscences, and amnesia – these are part of the existential and acoustic spaces from which the voices of Tokarczuk‘s tale come.
Our events calendar is a bit empty right now (if you’re hosting—or attending—any interesting events related to international literature, please e-mail us so that we can include it on that calendar to the right . . ), but there are a number of interesting events coming up that might be of interest.
Following up on the last post about Natasha Wimmer, she’s actually doing two events next month in San Francisco for the Center for the Art of Translation. On October 6, she’d doing a Lit&Lunch event called “Translating a Latin American Superstar” and revolving around Roberto Bolano, and on October 7th, she’lll discuss Bolano with novelist Daniel Alarcón.
On the same two days but on the opposite coast, the Polish Cultural Institute (and a slew of partners, including Words Without Borders) are putting on series of events under the title “After Kapuscinski: The Art of Reportage in the 21st Century.” Participants include Anna Bikont, Ted Conover, Philip Gourevitch, Eliza Griswold, Wojciech Jagielski, Alistair Reid, Pawel Smolenski, Lawrence Weschler, and many others. Full event listings can be found here but all three panels will take place in the evening at NYU’s Hemmerdinger Hall.
Finally, this is a bit further off, but on November 6th, the Ramon Llull Institut is putting on a colloquium entitled “Standing in the Shadows: Catalan Literature and English Translation.” Admission is by invite only, but if you’re lucky enough to be invited (or interested enough to beg for an invite), it looks to be pretty interesting. Mary Ann Caws, Lyn Hejinian, Francesc Parcerisas, Carlin Romano, Jill Schoolman, will all be participating.
It was recently announced that Antonia Lloyd-Jones has received this year’s Found in Translation Award for her translation of Pawel Huelle’s The Last Supper. (Which is available in the UK from Serpent’s Tail, and has a U.S. pub date of December 1, 2009.)
Huelle is a big name in Polish literature, and although a number of his books have been translated into English, it seems that he’s much more popular in the UK than the U.S. Which is unfortunate—this novel sounds pretty interesting:
The story of The Last Supper is set in Gdansk and centres on a single day in the near future, when twelve men have been invited by their mutual friend, an artist, to model at a photographic session for a modern version of The Last Supper. The histories of the twelve men are revealed through their thoughts on the day: their wayward behaviour is a reflection of the role of the Church in Polish society today. The reunion is disturbed as a wave of terrorist bombs paralyses the city, creating upheaval and a sense of unease.
Antonia Lloyd-Jones is one of the best Polish to English translators working today, and has translated other Pawel Huelle titles (including Castorp), along wiht works by Olga Tokarczuk, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, Ryszard Kapuscinski, and Wojciech Tochman.
The Found in Translation prize was established last year by the Polish Book Institute, Polish Cultural Institutes in London and New York, and W.A.B. Publishers. Its goal is to honor the best translation from Polish into English published within the past year by giving the translator PLN 10,000 (ca $3,000) and a three-month scholarship.
As officially announced at Bacacay, (the official blog of the Polish Cultural Institute in New York) Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel has been selected as the September title for the European Book Club.
It’s an honor to have one of our titles selected for this program, especially since this is the first time the Polish Cultural Institute is participating. (And it’s super-cool that the book club discussion will be taking place in the Solas Bar . . . )
If you’re not familiar with the European Book Club, here’s a nice write-up that Bill posted at Bacacay:
Founded in 2008, the European Book Club is a collaboration between a handful of New York-city based European cultural institute: the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Czech Center, the French Institute Alliance Française, the Goethe-Institut, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, the Polish Cultural Institute, and the Instituto Cervantes. Each month, a different participating institute hosts a book club meeting, which is then “mirrored” at the Brooklyn Public Library later the same month—a measure just introduced due to the overwhelming popularity of the Book Club last year and the fact that so many people had to be turned away. So, for instance, Jachým Topol’s classic City Sister Silver will be discussed tonight at the Czech Center, and the mirror session will take place tomorrow night in Brooklyn. Next month, Muriel Barbery’s acclaimed novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog will be hosted by the French Institute Alliance Française on April 13, and reproduced in Brooklyn on April 21. We’ll be holding our session in September at Solas Bar (appropriately enough), in the same second storey room of this fine East Village establishment where the St. Mark’s Bookshop reading series takes place. If you’ll be in New York then, make sure to check back here or at http://www.europeanbookclub.org sometime around the middle of August for information on how to sign up. Registration for the French session next month is already open.
The Polish Cultural Institute in New York recently launched Bacacay, a new blog with info on Polish literature for English-language readers, translators, reviewers, publishers, and so on.
Even though the site is brand new, Bill Martin has done a great job putting together some really interesting, informative posts, such as this one about the Polish nominations for the European Union Literary Prize. (Speaking of which, we should have a separate post about this prize, which just started this year and will honor a contemporary author from each of twelve countries. More on the specifics soon . . .)
It’s interesting to see the list of Polish nominations for the prize, especially since this info doesn’t appear to be available on EU Literary Prize website. Unfortunately, as Bill points out, only one of the twelve Polish nominations is a woman . . .
We don’t post a lot of job info here at Three Percent, but every once in a while when something particularly interesting comes along, I feel like I should pass it on.
Well, yesterday afternoon I got this e-mail from the Polish Cultural Institute in New York:
It is my pleasure to let you know that the Polish Cultural Institute in New York is growing and will be able to develop its literature program significantly. We are currently seeking a person for a full-time position of a literature programmer. I take this liberty to send the job description / requirements to you because I know that the best people are always found through a word of mouth and you may very well know a Polish-American (or an maybe even an American speaking Polish!) who would be interested. If so, please pass the attachment forward. Hence the knowledge of Polish is required, the attachment is in Polish. But we’re only seeking for a person based here, not in Poland.
Please, pass it to anyone who could be interested.
Polish Cultural Institute
Not only is this a cool job, it’s great to know that the PCI is expanding . . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .