Monday, December 30, 2013


Dużo pisać nie będę, bo czasu brak. Poza tym, mój mąż musi mi akurat w tej chwili złożyć raport z kolejnej teorii spiskowej, które w Stanach jak grzyby po deszczu ostatnio rosną, a on jakby mu ewangelię głosili, tak się ekscytuje. 

Super książka. Pani Joanna pisze inteligentnie, z dowcipem i bez zakłamania. Ja ryczałam ze śmiechu w trakcie czytania niektórych rozdziałów (szczególnie ten o niewyspaniu i makabrycznych kołysankach na melodię Z popielnika na wojtusia). Dosłownie. Bo macierzyństwo to jest taki obłęd, gdzie „już tylko śmiać się lub płakać” w grę nie wchodzi i jedynie obie czynności wykonywane jednocześnie wydają się jak najbardziej naturalne.  Dzięki książce Macierzyństwo non-fiction
z ulgą się pocieszam, że zupełną wariatką nie jestem lub przynajmniej nie jedyną na świecie. A to bardzo ważne kiedy matka zaczyna w sekrecie nazywać swojego trzylatka Stalin i swoją dwulatkę Lenin, a kontemplując
 o swoim stanie psychicznym coraz częściej „Zniewolony Umysł” Czesława Miłosza na myśl jej przychodzi.

Bardzo tej książki potrzebowałam i bardzo jestem wdzięczna pani Joannie, że ją napisała.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski, translated by Danusia Stok


* * * * *

The book's description from the publisher's website:

Introducing one of the most stylish and moody historic detective series ever: The Inspector Eberhard Mock Quartet.
Occupied Breslau, 1933: Two young women are found murdered on a train, scorpions writhing on their bodies, an indecipherable note in an apparently oriental language nearby...Police Inspector Eberhard Mock's weekly assignation with two ladies of the night is interrupted as he is called to investigate. But uncovering the truth is no straightforward matter in Breslau. The city is in the grip of the Gestapo, and has become a place where spies are everywhere, corrupt ministers torture confessions from Jewish merchants, and Freemasons guard their secrets with blackmail and violence. And as Mock and his young assistant Herbert Anwaldt plunge into the city's squalid underbelly the case takes on a dark twist of the occult when the mysterious note seems to indicate a ritual killing with roots in the Crusades...

This was one crazy ride. I've been reading thrillers/mysteries/crime fiction for many years now. Therefore I'm not exactly a novice in this department. With my conscience clean and easy, I would place Mr. Krajewski's historical crime  novel among the best in this genre and beyond. Beyond, since Death in Breslau is one of those gems that blur the boundaries between several genres and display in front of a reader serious literary talents of the books' creators. And such indeed is the case with Death in Breslau. It is rightly called noir, with all the characters exhibiting various stages of moral and ethical decomposition. No superhero cop rising above corruption and other earthly traps will be found here. This one truly is a gritty, hardcore murder investigation set in a world of brutality, violence, death and ambiguous morals, a world where you either eat or get eaten. And sometimes not until your last breath do you know whether you're dying as prey or predator. 

Hidden within the folds of the crime novel is an unexpected treasure of historical fiction. Marek Krajewski paints a fascinating portrait of interwar Breslau, a German name for the city of Wroclaw, Poland, then under German occupation. It's a little embarrassing to admit but despite having been born and years later lived my wildest college years in my beautiful Wroclaw, I'd shown precious little knowledge or appreciation for the history within the brick walls of buildings, cathedrals, little side alleys and bridges (Breslau really is perceived by many as a city of islands because the rivers cut through it from all sides) that were part of my life a few years back just as they became the setting for Death in Breslau and a part of the lives of Inspector Mock, Herbert Anwaldt, other policemen, Gestapo officers, debauched aristocrats and prostitutes. Despite the gruesome murders and an uneasy atmosphere inundated with foreboding of what evil was yet to come (WWII), despite that ethical and moral decay slowly taking root in all who become entangled in the search for and the hiding of the truth, Mr. Krajewski gave us beauty too - the architectural beauty and the natural charm of Breslau, this majestic city that to this day retains all the appeal and is as a matter of fact rapidly becoming the cultural center of Europe. I'm waxing nostalgic here but hey, Wroclaw is and always has been worthy of every ounce of nostalgia poured over it :D.

Most importantly, in a true spirit of crime fiction, the plot is captivating and you'll find yourself utterly engaged in looking for the killer/s along with Eberhardt Mock and his sidekick from Berlin, Herbert Anwaldt. It's especially worthy of praise how the book's author developed these two characters who while playing the roles of 'the good guys' are probably the two most morally ambiguous people in the whole story. Mock and Anwaldt belong to the grey world of the 'not wholly good but not entirely evil either' human beings. Because of that, these two elements (totally my term of endearment) are also the most realistic characters in this story. Why, you ask? Because humans are nothing, if we're not morally ambiguous. Those Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Segal cop characters belong in the fantasy world that is a close and good neighbor of Disneyworld. They do not exist. Mocks and Anwaldts, on the other hand, very much so.

I'm very happy and very excited to see that the Polish literary crime world counts among its ranks such a talented writer as Marek Krajewski. His prose is smart, intelligent but never ostentatious or, goodness forbid, condescending. When I was reading Death in Breslau, I was experiencing a creation of  a confident writer, who knows where he belongs on the crime fiction and literary scene and  who is fervently carving out a permanent place among the talents of the European Noir. He deserves it too.

A Note On Translation

Death in Breslau has been translated from Polish by Danusia Stok. Ms. Stok is a very accomplished and skilled translator bringing Polish books to the UK market for quite some time. I believe she is less known in the American publishing market, an unfortunate situation which I greatly hope is in the process of being remedied. Her translation of Krajewski's novel was really good, the potential obstacle or challenge of dealing with German names and phrases and Latin sayings sprinkled throughout, all to never break the flow of the narrative in the translation of the main text seemed to not have been a challenge at all. Danusia Stok is the necessary half to Krajewski's in forming a literary tandem to give the English world a hearty bite of the Polish mystery genre.

FTC: I received an e-galley of Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski from the publisher, Melville House via Edelweiss.

Just to give you a glimpse of Wroclaw, here are a few photos for your enjoyment
This is University of Wroclaw, my alma mater.

Inside the main building of the University, there is this astonishing room in which I got officially immatriculated into the folds of University of Wroclaw.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated by Bill Johnston


* * * * *

The book's description from the publisher's site:

Myśliwski's grand epic in the rural tradition—a profound and irreverent stream of memory cutting through the rich and varied terrain of one man’s connection to the land, to his family and community, to women, to tradition, to God, to death, and to what it means to be alive. Wise and impetuous, plain-spoken and compassionate Szymek, recalls his youth in their village, his time as a guerrilla soldier, as a wedding official, barber, policeman, lover, drinker, and caretaker for his invalid brother. Filled with interwoven stories and voices, by turns hilarious and moving, Szymek’s narrative exudes the profound wisdom of one who has suffered, yet who loves life to the very core.
Nostalgia is the first word that comes to my mind after finishing this outstanding novel. Because if Szymek's life and my life are separated by decades, I spent half of my life (the first 15 years) pretty much living with my peasant grandparents on their farm. And I loved them, that life and I'm more a peasant myself than a city girl nowadays, even though I've had my share of big cities' living. What I'm driving at here is that every day of Szymek's life spent with his parents, farming the land and observing or not observing the traditions, was my life too and my maternal grandparents' and my mom's, her siblings' and our entire huge family's. I cannot believe how accurately Mr. Myśliwski depicted the realities of post-war Polish peasantry and beginnings of Stalinist government taking roots in our country. It was actually uncanny to read the minutest details, such as the way Szymek's mother cut the loaf of bread (this is how I learned and used to do it) to the father yelling at Szymek, "Dear God, hold me back or I'll kill him, I'll kill him like a dog!" (I remember my grandpa yelling the same way at my uncles, and yes they were adults but for us kids it was funny as hell) and realize those are all the things that happened in my life. Anyway, so far it's all personal, I know but to me that is the most important  part of Stone Upon Stone. Also, when you do get to read it, it's not all exaggerated, sentimentalized, romanticized view of the things long past. It's all true, exactly the way we, peasants lived in Poland for decades, including the parties, drinking and bloody fights, and the love of land above all. Nothing's made up. Historically, all details are very accurate. Shit, I even remember the scythes and helping my grandpa with their sharpening using the whetstone  and I'm not ancient (measly 35) :D.

Word and language mastery are the next three words staying in my mind all the time I was reading Stone Upon Stone. The author writes beautifully and gives the power of words their due. Life wisdom and insight into human nature abound. And even though it is written in a stream of memory, it's not the same as stream of consciousness and as a real stream, it flows smoothly and easily.

But thinking's no good. I mean, you're not going to think something up unless you actually do it. People thought and thought, and what did they come up with? The world's still the way it was, and all thinking does is make you think more and do less. (p.149)
 That's wisdom. Simple it may be but profound nonetheless. And the form mirrors the philosophy contained within it. Really, this novel is a masterpiece in its form, in its content and in its message. But most importantly, it's a tribute to farmers and rural Poland. I can't imagine anyone better suited for such an important role than Mr. Wiesław Myśliwski. A great, memorable read to which I'll be returning more than once.

Note on Translation

Stone Upon Stone (Kamien na kamieniu) was translated from Polish by Bill Johnston. The fact that this translation got three translation awards in 2012 - PEN Translation Prize, Best Translated Book Award, American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Prize (AATSEEL) - pretty much speaks for itself. I must say that Mr. Johnston did a superb job translating Myśliwski's novel and he did the Polish language proud. I'm looking forward to more translations of his in the future. And apparently, in 2014 there is going to be another novel by Wiesław Myśliwski, Treatise on Shelling Beans, translated by Bill Johnston hitting the American market in 2014.

FTC: I purchased a copy of Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Open Road Media - Not All is Lost in Publishing, After All.

Just so there is no doubt about my integrity as a blogger and as a reader, the following post is not a paid advertisement, nor have I received any e-books from the publisher gratis that would prompt me to say the praise I do. I have purchased Open Road Media titles with my own money and now own 23 books published by them. In comparison, I have received, upon my request, four e-books for review from Open Road. I hope that clears the question of integrity and any hidden motives. My motives are out in the open: saying thank you for doing a great job :-)

It is not very often that I write about publishers. Most of the time, I'm more interested in literature and reading than in the companies that allow me to have access to that literary world. However, precisely because of what I just wrote, I realized that my attitude may be unfair and equal attention should be paid to both, even though my love of books will always take precedence.

I won't beat the dead horse here speaking of the future of publishing. Others have done it better and more extensively than I ever would. My short opinion here is only shared as an introduction to why I chose to make a publisher a main subject of this post. Amid the outcries that publishing is breathing its last, that e-readers, e-books and self-publishing are taking over the world so tightly held in the hand of traditional-format books, I am not worried in the least. Yes, the change is happening as I'm writing this. But change is good. Change is progress. Without change, we still would be burned on the stake for daring to read the Bible ourselves, instead of relying on the Church to read it to us (in the language the masses couldn't even understand). I like to go forward with the times. Consequently, I like and appreciate publishers who are open-minded and bold enough to go forward with the times as well.

Enter, Open Road Integrated Media. This is the forward thinking company with people equally willing to see and make change happen.

Celebrating the past. Building the future. 360° e-publishing.

And they do indeed come through on their promises.

Celebrating the past - check.

Building the future - check.

360° e-publishing - check.

For the past couple of years I have been noticing Open Road's steady rise on the e-book market and in the publishing world altogether. I have to say that this company is doing a fantastic job in giving readers one of the biggest compilation of e-books across the literary genres to choose from. They have biographies, mysteries, thrillers, translated works from across the pond. I think the best part of their contribution to the world of e-books is bringing back to life all the titles that up until now have been unavailable to owners of e-readers. Now, if your little heart so desires, you can have your fill of Pearl S. Buck, William Styron, John Gardner, Octavia Butler, Stephen Coonts, Jonathan Carroll, et al. Really, my head is spinning looking at the list of all the authors, whose titles Open Road offers. There are so many and of such great quality that it's impossible to list them all. But here, go take a look yourself and see if your excitement doesn't start growing dangerously fast.

If the names of all the writers aren't enough, you can always look at all the partners working with Open Road Media. It's simply fantastic what crazy choices there are. Just the thought of all the future releases brought right to our electronic doorsteps makes me dizzy with anticipation and...that's right, excitement. Because this is what Open Road people do best and why they are so important:

Open Road Media publishers will make us, readers all over the country, finally excited about the future of publishing and the future of books. No gloom and doom here. All you have to do is enter that wonderful world of electronic publishing and see if you don't feel like never turning back.

Last but not least, I would like to extend a very special thank you to Iris Blasi, a Marketing Manager in Open Road Media, who is just about one of the nicest people in publishing I got to correspond with. Very coincidentally (although I believe things do work in strange ways like that), when I was in the process of composing this post, I received a personal email (not an automated response) from Iris after I requested one of their titles for review. In it, for the first time since I started blogging over four years ago, I received a 'thank you' for doing what I do and I was encouraged to  'keep up the excellent work'. It was unexpected and, I'm going to be honest here, greatly needed for my own morale. It warmed my heart, truly.  Thank you :D.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kiku's Prayer by Endō Shūsaku, translated by Van C. Gessel


* * * *

The book's description from the publisher's website:

Kiku’s Prayer is told through the eyes of Kiku, a self-assured young woman from a rural Japanese village who falls in love with Seikichi, a devoted Catholic man. Practicing a faith still banned by the government, Seikichi is imprisoned but refuses to recant under torture. Kiku’s efforts to reconcile her feelings for Seikichi’s religion with the sacrifices she makes to free him mirror the painful, conflicting choices Japan faced as a result of exposure to modernity and the West. Seikichi’s persecution exemplifies Japan’s insecurities, and Kiku’s tortured yet determined spirit represents the nation’s resilient soul.
Set in the turbulent years of the transition from the shogunate to the Meiji Restoration, Kiku’s Prayer embodies themes central to Endō Shūsaku’s work, including religion, modernization, and the endurance of the human spirit. Yet this novel is much more than a historical allegory. It acutely renders one woman’s troubled encounter with passion and spirituality at a transitional time in her life and in the history of her people. A renowned twentieth-century Japanese author, Endō wrote from the perspective of being both Japanese and Catholic. His work is often compared with that of Graham Greene, who himself considered Endō one of the century’s finest writers.

Just when you think you might be getting somewhere with your knowledge of history, a book comes along such as Kiku's Prayer. Thanks to Endō Shūsaku, how little I know of the history of the world was glaring me in the face from the first until the last page of this novel. I am still incredulous how history teachers (among other people)  never failed to pound into my head the Catholic Church's cruelty during the Inquisition. The other side of the coin, the hundreds of thousands of Christians made to apostatize under some of the most awful torture practices and thousands upon thousands of Christians persecuted and killed across the Asian continent alone, had never been presented, discussed or even mentioned in passing to me until Kiku's Prayer. Incredulous and grateful at the same time are two emotions that are prevalent in mind as I think about  Endō Shūsaku and his book.

Admittedly, Kiku's Prayer's begins slowly and it requires a bit of patience to keep going. However, the subject - the persecution of Japanese Christians (Kirishitans) in 19th century Nagasaki - is fascinating, worthy and deserving of notice and our attention. Not every book has to be a distraction and the effort you invest in reading Mr. Shūsaku's novel will be well paid off in the end.

Besides the subject matter, there are a couple of intriguing aspects of Kiku's Prayer that I was surprised to notice. I'm certainly not an expert in Japanese or Chinese literature. But nor am I a novice to it. I've read I think enough to see a  distinct quality to it, quite apart from the western tradition. The writing of Endō Shūsaku is the first time I encountered a change from what I became to identify as an Asian style of writing.  Here, there is a lot more emphasis on plot development than on descriptive, albeit always crisp and to the point, narrative where the physical surroundings, the mystical power of nature and landscape and how they relate to the growth or decline of human character. It was a different reading experience but by no means of inferior quality.

The narrative style takes an unusual turn as well. The narrator comes off as a kind of a documentary commentator/historical archivist living in the present but describing events from the 19th century. On the one hand it gives a reader confidence in the accuracy of historical events written about in Kiku's Prayer. Equally important is that this technique escapes the dangers of becoming an overtly moralizing tale whose message wouldn't or couldn't touch the hearts of readers in a way the essence of this novel will. On the other hand, the  side effect (and the only negative side of Kiku's Prayer) is the awkward and sudden switches of narrative from smooth retelling of the story to dry enumerating of the events in the fashion of almost a newspaper article. Overall, it doesn't detract from the importance and quality of Kiku's Prayer and from why it matters that you read it.

A Note On Translation

Kiku's Prayer by Endō Shūsaku has been translated into English from Japanese by Van C. Gessel for the first time. Below is a short description from Columbia University Press about this esteemed translator.

Van C. Gessel is professor of Japanese at Brigham Young University. He is the author of Three Modern Novelists: Sōseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata; coeditor of The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature; and translator of seven literary works by Endō Shūsaku, including The Samurai and Deep River.

FTC: I received an e-galley of Kiku's Prayer from the publisher, Columbia University Press via NetGalley.