Joined: 09 Nov 2019
Posted: Wed Nov 13, 2019 9:03 pm
Post subject: Great Polish Books Deserve to Read
Polish literature, although not as well known as its German and Russian cousins, is one of the gems of European culture. This list covers a very wide range of genres and eras, but any of these books will help you love Poland a little more.
1. The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki (1804, 1810)
This is undoubtedly the most famous book written by a Polish author – but it may well be also the most mysterious. Set mostly in 18th century Spain, The Manuscriptfollows the adventures of the Waloon guard Alphonse van Worden as he tries to unravel the mystery of the ancient Gomelez family. However, very soon the narrative slips into a series of intertwining stories featuring a colourful cast of Gypsies, thieves, inquisitors, as well as a Cabbalist, Geometrist, and two Moorish princesses.
Written at the turn of the 19th century by a Polish aristocrat in French and never published in full during his lifetime, the Manuscript has been defined variously: a frame-tale novel, a fantastic novel avant la lettre or the last Enlightenment novel –even though its ambivalent world-view suggests rather that is an early beacon of dark Romanticism. This diversity and lack of consensus among literary historians partly reflect the strange after-life of the book's manuscript, whose story is as intricate as the work itself (we have today two, or even three equal, rival versions of the work).
One thing is certain, Potocki's novel is hardly matched by anything in world literature, and continues to fascinate contemporary readers who see his work as predecessor to such Post-Modern authors as Thomas Pynchon and Umberto Eco (those conspiracy theories!). Those who don't feel like jumping into a quirky 600-page frame-tale novel should check out the film adaptation by Wojciech Jerzy Has from 1965 – but be warned, it's hypnotizing!
2. The Doll by Bolesław Prus (1890)
The Doll is indisputably the greatest Polish realist novel – according to some, like Czesław Miłosz, it's also the greatest Polish-language novel ever. The Doll is the Polish Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary at the same time, even if the Polish Anna/Emma is male and has brusque manners and huge, red hands. The Dollcentres on the obsessive love affair between aspiring arriviste Stanisław Wokulski and high-society girl Izabella Łęcka – tracing the impossibility of this relationship and the incompatibility of their social statuses become Prus' major point of focus.
But The Doll deflects from the classic European psychological realist novel with its ideals of objectivity and clarity. Through its use of polyphony and an abundance of ideas, the novel questions the very possibility of objective representation of truth. The book was also called a prototype of the 20th-century 'post-colonial' novel, “in which the characters mimic men and the puppet-masters are always elsewhere” (read more). The Doll may be also unique in world literature as it attempted to portray the entire Polish society of the 19th century: with portraits of members of aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat, as well as Poland's ethnic Jewish and German minorities.
3. Choucas by Zofia Nałkowska (1927)
Set in a Swiss alpine sanatorium in the 1920s, Zofia Nałkowska's Choucas has drawn comparisons with Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. Somewhat allegorical in its character, Nałkowska's tale also profiles a motley collection of visitors to the village and patients of the sanatorium, with each character hailing from a different country and espousing a distinct political viewpoint. Written at around the same time as Mann's magnum opus and addressing similar issues of nascent European nationalisms, Polish novel is considerably slimmer and thus perhaps more accessible. Nałkowska, the leading Polish author and feminist voice of Polish interwar literature, can be considered a perfect introduction to the more artistically daunting Polish literature of the period.
4. Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hour-Glass by Bruno Schulz (1937)
Published in 1937, Sanatorium is only the second and last volume of [url]Bruno Shulz's short stories https://docsbay.net/the-afterlife-of-schulz-or-schulzology-what-is-it-good-for [/url]. In it Schulz returns to the characteristic motifs of his work: the everyday life of a provincial Galician town and its impoverished Jewish residents, living a life that is illuminated by the Myth. In the title story the narrator visits his ageing (or is he dead already?) father in a sanatorium – located in a dead-end branch of time. Schulz's scarce output was admired by such diverse writers as John Updike, Philip Roth, and I.B. Singer, who said of Schulz:
“He wrote sometimes like Kafka, sometimes like Proust – and at times succeeded in reaching depths that neither of them reached”.
5. A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising by Miron Białoszewski (1970)
Białoszewski's detailed account of the 63 days of the Warsaw Uprising remains the most faithful, anti-heroic, and nonpathetic description of the disintegration of the great city in the wake of terrible havoc of war. Białoszewski described the everyday of those involved in the Uprising in colloquial language devoid of any pathos or easy hope. His is the mundane, anti-heroic and universal perspective of civilians, so many of whom perished in the Uprising. Read more about Białoszewsk's Memoir here.