21 May 09 | Chad W. Post

Haven’t found the full list online yet, but apparently the longlist for this year’s NIKE Literary Award (the most prestigious literary award in Poland) have been announced. I’ll post an update when I find the full list, but for now, I can say that both Bambino by Inga Iwasiow and Poland Marches On by our own Jerzy Pilch are on the longlist.

And both titles are published by Swiat Ksiazki, who notified me and sent along sample translations . . .

Here’s the info on Jerzy Pilch’s book (which sounds a bit mental, and a bit like The Master and Margarita):

The protagonist – the writer’s alter-ego – has just turned fifty-two. This compulsive seducer decides to find himself a woman on his birthday. She should be different from all his lovers to date. And there have been more than a few … Just when it seems as though his search is all in vain, he gets a text message from the Devil Incarnate himself, inviting him to a ball. Legends are circulating about this party: an out-of-this-world orgy, the Rolling Stones are to be singing, and they’re keeping a zombie in the cellars of the castle… But this is just a small taste of what really is going on there! Our protagonist accidentally finds out that the local residents are planning to attack the estate that day. And this is just the start of a wild, dream-like tale.

And a short excerpt:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit of Storytelling, Amen. On the eve of my fifty-second birthday I decided that the following day I would meet a new woman. This thought had been rattling around in my brain for a long time, but it had only gradually been assuming its definitive key.

I was not undertaking a frivolity; this was neither a game not a wager. I was not giving myself an easy task—my serious and ambitious intention was, within the next twenty-four hours, to meet, get to know, and seduce an intelligent, slim girl just shy of thirty years old and at least six feet in height.

I wanted to offer myself an intensive birthday present and I wanted to test whether I could afford to offer myself an intensive birthday present. On the surface I was in good shape, but I felt that the monster dwelling inside of me was beginning to die. People still regarded me as a rogue, but in essence I was relying on reputation alone. Appearances to the contrary, cynicism was never my strong suit; the irony and instrumental nature of my stories about women had once served to conceal the wrongs I did them. Now, I used the remnants of cynicism, the remains of irony and a show of instrumentalism to mask my despair and my longing.

And a bit about Iwasiow’s Bambino

Bambino is a story about people and a place, or rather places. One of them is the Bambino snack bar, where the four main characters meet. Another is the whole of Szczecin and the surrounding area, a city that has been badly churned up by history, to which people from various parts of Poland made their way after the war. We follow the fortunes of the four heroes from before the war up to 1980. Marysia was born into a large family in the south-eastern borderlands (now Ukraine). After the war, she and her entire family were repatriated to Poland, where they were given a home in a Pomeranian village. She was the only one who managed to get away to the city, where she became a nurse. There she met Janek (and married him), a bastard from a village near Poznań who was abandoned by his mother and later tried to get his own back for years of humiliation by choosing to work for the security service, which ultimately led to the collapse of their marriage. Anna comes from Gorlice, which she left to escape an overly strict mother and a stepfather who didn’t care about her. She had a hard time finishing her studies, and got married late in life, purely for practical reasons, to a merchant navy captain who is older than her. Ula is a German by origin, and is the only one of the main characters to have been born in Szczecin. Because of the war, she almost entirely lost contact with her family, which meant that she has stayed in the city, trying to live like an ordinary Pole. Her not very ardent relationship with Stefan, a Jew who survived the Holocaust and the only man she has ever wanted to be with, was cut cruelly short by history, as Stefan was forced to leave the country in 1968.

And excerpt:

MARIA, BORN 1940

Maria carries it inside her, I swear. An image of the journey, but not only. Something that happened in the course of it. Something left far behind her. Like all the others, she has this something inside her, the threads run together, the genes, they intersect, various things can arise from this combination, and I want to find out who they are – perhaps it is actually my story, but it could just as well be not mine or anyone else’s. I want to rummage in the pictures, carbon copies and waste paper. There’s nothing to hold on to, no album, no diary, no central concept, apart from need. There are just disconnected stories instead, whatever someone has made up about himself. About the person he is. And a life, quite simply, his or whoever’s, past and continuing. That’s all we have on the subject. Centrifugal motion, stealing up from behind, the same thing but with no prospect of the same thing. The mother of all such lost illusions – that’s Maria.

I’m starting with Maria, because her name attracts me. All women are called EveMaria. This one all the more so, as if she were made out of her name straight off from the start, more than Eve, naturally, less marked out, or chosen from the crowd, but then no one ever promised her that. No one did, in naming the girl, yet that’s just what she longs for, to be designated. Thoughtlessly giving a girl that name is a way of tempting and inviting fate. It means she is marked out for sure, but let us not forget that Maria is a common name in this situation. It is sure to be the name of every third heroine whose life began in the circumstances that interest me, the ones I regard as a part of the image of the journey. Quite simply, our grannies often had that name. I’ve got nothing to be proud of, because we’ll see what happens to those names and to them further on. They were only brought here in 1957. They were brought here. They were brought by train, but first someone gave permission, issued documents and stamped their decision on them. First came their and those people’s hesitation, the decision was just about to be made, but then the hand was withdrawn, the circle turned, and they went on standing by the same fence. Until that final moment. And it wasn’t at all funny or heroic in those – of course, nowadays we say “cattle” trucks.


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