Saturday, 13 August 2011

Ignacy Karpowicz - Balladyny i romanse | The best of Polish contemporary literature.

   "Things on Earth aren’t looking so good. The old, mighty Gods have pushed out the trivial, yet ruthless little gods of pop culture. The world of the global village provides no sense of stability and security. People are isolated and have long lost their hope for a change of fate – they spend their lives from one day to the next, apathetic and bored… And to make matters worse, the coffee starts running out.
But one day the gods begin to act. A large group of them appears
among the people. Will Nike, Aphrodite, Jesus, Osiris, Lucifer and others manage to bring back the proper hierarchy? Will humanity once again believe? And why did they choose the "country on sale" - Poland?
Ignacy Karpowicz’s latest novel is a brilliantly wrought, ironic
treatise on modernity. It is at once amusing and terrifying. Provocative
and blasphemous. Some will like it. Others won’t. And that’s the way
it should be."

This is what the publisher wrote about the newest book of Ignacy Karpowicz (on the right, born 1976), a Polish writer, traveller and translator from English, Spanish and Amhar. His novels "Gestures" and "Niehalo" were nominated for a very prestigious award of 'Polityka' weekly. "Balladyny i romanse" have won this award in 2010 "for panache, courage, sense of humour and trust towards the reader". It is also nominated for the Nike Award 2011, the most prestigious award for Polish literature, called the Polish Nobel. Many people and critics say it's very probable that he will get this award. "Gestures" were nominated for this award in 2009. "Balladyny i romanse" is a voice of young Polish society of authors, the fresh breath in Polish literature and - I believe - in the world literature. It is not translated into English yet (it will soon be translated into Hungarian, but I will keep you informed if it is).

"Take a pinch of Bulgakov, a touch of Rabelais and a healthy dose of Kundera, and you are starting to approach Karpowicz's world" - writes the publisher. If we connect irony, brave imagination, sense of humour and excellent control of the language with a good idea for a book which is not only a great entertainment but also a deep criticism of the present - we will get the full image of this novel.Under the tinsel of the tragicomic farce the novel considers big issues, such as religion, nationalism, social roles and rules. In the first scenes we observe the affair between Olga, the virgin and the eternal single, and the primitive chav Janek who's starting to transform into a sensitive, reflective boy. Soon the novel evolves into the surreal farce in which the Gods descend from Heavens and argue, using the informal language.

The novel gives a great outlook at modern Poland, it is a priceless mine of Polish mentality and reality, often in a pessimistic and negative way. It doesn't try to embellish anything, it shows everything as it is, but at the same time laughing at it. Honestly, the book taught me that laughter can help you live through the tough and gray reality which is far from perfect. Reserve, imagination, laughing - these are the means to be satisfied with the imperfect and often annoying world around you. The author himself often mentions that he doesn't like people (that's why he holed up in a little village in the north-east of Poland) and it's clearly visible in his novels, but he does it with such a great amound of humour that you don't perceive the book depressing, quite the contrary, you laugh to tears, like I did. I suppose it was easy for me to laugh, because I observe it on a daily basis, I know the political and social context of the events described in the book, because these are fairly recent things that are going on in Poland. However, I'm sure you'd also have a great fun in reading this book.
By the way, the novel is set in Białystok, a city in the north-east of Poland.

Some quotes translated (in an imperfect way) by me:

"Men are stupid, my God, how stupid (...) if I give birth to a son I will cut his play-thing instead of the umbilical cord, I'll put it off. You can live with an uncut umbilical cord, with a cock under the same roof - no way."

"The beauty and the harmony reside in variety and chaos. Prussian order and clear ideas are the gate to mass graves, usually anonymous."

"Relatively stable democracy, major religion: magical catholicism and Gdańsk Shipyard, major achievements: Fryderyk Chopin and stewed cabbage. (...) tolerance in extintion from the 17th century, they're musical, they fit in the stave, literature focused on national complexes, hard to translate (...) Sexual intercourse lasts usually less than a quarter, climax actually doesn't appear. Domestic violence is doing great. Fetility not so great." (the description of Poland)