20 April 10 | Chad W. Post

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Dan Vitale on Andrzej Stasiuk’s Fado, which was translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston and published by Dalkey Archive Press.

The book’s gotten a lot of nice attention already, and Stasiuk is considered one of the most interesting contemporary Polish writers. (And his wife runs a really fantastic publishing house. I actually met her in Germany a couple months ago at a special hearing on translations.) Stasiuk has a few books available in English, including Nine, which came out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt a couple years ago. (Although I can’t find a listing for a paperback edition, which is weird and shitty.)

Dan Vitale is one of our contributing reviewers, and has written reviews for us of books by Peter Handke, Roberto Bolano, and Amos Oz, among others.

Here’s the opening of his piece on Fado:

The Polish novelist and essayist Andrzej Stasiuk owns a century-old travel map of Austro-Hungary. Aside from its fragility, he writes, its most notable feature is its level of detail: “[E]very village of half a dozen cottages, every godforsaken backwater where the train stops—even only the slow train, even only once a week—all those places are marked and labeled, all are preserved and their names can be read with a magnifying glass, just as if you were reading the past itself, or discovering the origins of a legend.”

Throughout this captivating collection of essays, Stasiuk does much the same job of preservation for contemporary Central Europe—in particular, the region of the Carpathian Mountains of southern Poland where he lives, just over the border from Slovakia, and the surrounding countries within driving distance of his home. He visits a World War I military cemetery; he encounters Gypsies who have “survived the perils of extermination and the lure of assimilation”; and he provides pithy descriptions of the cultural traits of many other Central European national and ethnic groups in this region that he calls (borrowing the term from Hannah Arendt) the “zone of mixed populations.”

Fado is named for a style of Portuguese folk song noted for its melancholy. But while a melancholic tone occasionally creeps into Stasiuk’s prose, he is no wistful nostalgist. His clear-eyed observations of the present are every bit as engaging as his reclamations of the past.

Click here to read the full review.


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