This past weekend (yes, I’m still catching up), The Independent ran an interview with Polish author Pawel Huelle under the intriguing title, “Why cult Polish author Pawel Huelle thinks he’s a camel.”
That’s explained away pretty quickly—he has two humps—and most of the interview focuses on Huelle’s new novel Castorp, just out from Serpent’s Tail and based on a throwaway line from The Magic Mountain.
“When I first read Mann’s The Magic Mountain, the story of a young German called Hans Castorp, it had a hypnotic effect on me. I was 16 and extremely ill, and had to lie in bed for several weeks. So my mother brought me books to read; unfortunately, in spite of my illness, I still read so fast she couldn’t keep up. No sooner had she found me another novel than I’d finished it. One day, however, she brought in this great, fat book and said triumphantly ‘I think this’ll last you for at least 10 days.’ Secretly I think she hoped I’d find it such heavy going I’d get better before I finished it. But I read it in five days, simultaneously becoming even more feverish and, although I didn’t understand everything in it, that book cast a spell on me. One sentence in particular stuck in my mind; it was the start point for my own novel.” He picks up his copy of Castorp and reads the quotation at the beginning: “‘He had spent four semesters at the Danzig Polytechnic.’”
“I grew up in Gdansk – Danzig, as it used to be called. Just imagine a writer you really, really like creating a literary hero who you discover may have lived in the house next door to you. Your imagination goes crazy: where did he live? Where did he go? Where did he get his hair cut? For years I wondered: what did Castorp do in Gdansk?”
Overall, Huelle, who used to be published in the States by Harcourt, sounds like a writer worth looking into. Especially since Hrabal and Sabato are two of his literary idols.
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