Quirky Polish novels

This year's Autumn Book Fair in the Kubicki Arcades and Gardens of the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Photo: PAP/Leszek Szymański

A masterpiece? "He laughs who has teeth" by Zyta Rudzka. Testimony? "If it cut you in half" by Łukasz Barys. An ideology for the 21st century? "Empuzjon" by Olga Tokarczuk. A yearning that politicians should hear before the elections? "Bella, ciao" by Piotr Siemion.

Reading is, of course, one of the most wonderful activities, reading, if engaged in professionally, can be a time-and-energy-consuming, and emotionally exhausting activity, it can be an extreme sport. I try to remain semi-amateur, or at least middle-distance, in this field, and I admire those who have one profession: the critic. Only they are able to deal with not dozens but hundreds of titles a year, to focus on a chosen genre, format or language (may I at this point pay tribute to Juliusz Gałkowski, who writes about contemporary Polish poetry in "Nowe Książki", or the team of Karolina Felberg - Marcin Bełza - Piotr Kieżun, who discuss young prose in "Kultura Liberalna").

I myself would be afraid to name the "Ten most outstanding Polish books of 2022". . Not because I don't have candidates for such a list, but because I am too afraid of 'the eleventh one'. That is - authors and titles I might have overlooked, which were not suggested to me by anyone else's friendly review. The publishing market in Poland, though subject to many pressures and restrictions, is fortunately decentralising - sitting outside Warsaw and browsing through the publishing houses of Krakow or Wrocław, I know, I just know, how "checkered" I am with this year's output of the Szczecin's Format, the Mikolow Institute or the Wydawnictwo Poznanskie publishing house....

So instead of a ranking and medal places, I will propose (this used to be a fashionable formula among philologists, thanks to Professor Maria Janion) a more open form. I would like to point out a few phenomena, a few attitudes and ways of naming the world that have made a particular impression on me in Polish novels published over the past year. Literature is, of course, not just a "mirror strolling through the guesthouse" - This delicious formula by Stendhal, which brilliantly captures the ambitions and possibilities of nascent 19th-century realism, does not, however, do justice to all those with creative rather than reportorial ambitions, who want to bring new entities and worlds into existence rather than catalogue existing ones. But, with the exception of the work of the most twisted visionaries and postmodernists (although they too are sometimes, if not a reflection, then a negative of the beliefs, faiths and resentments that dominate around them) - literature is also this: a mirror and a testimony. "For there is epochal salt in poetry" - one could paraphrase a line from the "Poetic Treatise". And in prose, too.

The language that governs us

There is really only one queen in this regard, and in this paragraph I am closest to anointing a particular title as 'Book of the Year' (there have already been several such nominations, by the way). Zyta Rudzka and her " He laughs who has teeth " (W.A.B., 2022). Well, yes, it is a masterpiece.

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–Wojciech Stanisławski –Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

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