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)


Sunday, 7 August 2011

Ballad(yna)s and romances

As I had foreseen, I didn't really feel a strong encouragement to pursue writing this blog. Today however, due to a couple of reasons, I decided (for the umpteenth time) to devote myself to regular updating this small website of mine. Everytime I discover blogs of journalists, bookworms, musicians and so forth, I start to 'burn with desire' to be a regular blogger.

First of all, let me say that I came back from my three-week stay in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in central-south France, in the department of Haute-Loire. I've never been that much into France and the French language as I was there, during my actual stay there. It's not really resonably explainable but the pleasant and friendly ambiance of this tiny town in charming surrounding made me want to desperately learn French fluently. And it made me stuck at some triple crossroads with four roadsigns pointing at: a) a middle-sized town in northern France, b) Stockholm, c) Edinburgh, Scotland in general, and d) southern Poland (Kraków). It would be so much better to have a couple of lives to give it all a go. Or maybe, who knows, I'd have the possibility to pack it all in my somewhat short life of, say, 80 years. I now even long more for studying in Edinburgh, I'd be so thankful if God gave me this chance and I managed to handle it, not too scared of trying new things. I do love Poland, but not as far as education is concerned.

Speaking of Poland, I'm currently reading a MARVELLOUS novel which got a very prestigious award of a magazine called "Polityka". It's called "Balladyny i romanse" and was written by Ignacy Karpowicz. I will surely post a review as soon as I finish it, but I already know this is one of the best, if not the best, books I've ever read. So innovative, poignant, ludicrous, quizzical, fixated and subtle at the same time, with elements of soft porno that could make some people a bit disgusted, but not me, with thousands of references to Polish (sick) society, (indigent, overdrawn and turgid) culture, (ineffective and bumbling) politics and reality. I'm honestly in awe.

Let me explain you the title of the book. It literally means "Balladynas and romances" and is a free variation of "Ballads and romances" - a poetry book written by "the national poet" (as we call him) of the Romanticism era Adam Mickiewicz. "Balladyna", however, is a drama written by another Romanticism period poet - Juliusz Słowacki. As you probably know, Romanticism was a 'movement' in literature characterised by grandiloquent phrases, metaphores, believe that dreams and imagination are above the reality. As a result, the language is a bit too tumid and bombastic. From the start, the title, the author (Karpowicz) laughs at our national tendency to turgid, pathetic language, literature and films celebrating historical events and the 'spirit of the nation' with not a grain of humour or satire. The whole novel is kept in this tonality, it makes me laugh, makes me amused, amazed and stunned. Believe me or not, but this is literature at its best! I've been seeing such tendencies in modern Polish literature though - to make fun of Poles, Polish attitude, lack of interest in culture and so on, and so forth. I hope to write more in the next post.

I would also like to get you acquainted with a Polish non-mainstream pop/folk band called nomen omen "Ballady i romanse", created by two 'alternative' sisters Zuzanna and Barbara Wrońska. I would even dare say they are Polish CocoRosie. Well, enjoy!