Wiesław Myśliwski in Strzebrzeszyn

The Strzebrzeszyn ‘Capital of Polish’ festival, now in its third year, has just created and awarded the first Man of Word accolade to none other than Wiesław Myśliwski, whose A Treatise on Shelling Beans we discussed a few months ago.

In his word of thanks, Myśliwski suggested Jan Brzechwa, the author of the delightful and wicked Chrząszcz, as his successor for the award. There is already a statue of a cricket (świerszcz, or chrząszcz) in Strzebrzeszyn but. according to Myśliwski, it’s high time the poet got one as well, if only for popularising the town as our own Shibboleth. 

Myśliwski, who is currently finishing Ucho Igielne (Eye of the Needle) which by his own admission he may never submit for publication, was astonished to be described by the literary critic Piotr Biłos as an erotic writer. He eventually agreed. He also admitted that Biłos has discovered whole new worlds in his novels which he, Myśliwski, had no idea he had created. 

One of the points raised during the festival was the apparent disappearance of the vocative from the language of polite debate. Used correctly, this case shows respect for the interlocutor and promotes a civilised exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, these days it is used mainly to hurl abuse at (perceived) political enemies, i.e. anyone who does not support the ruling party.  

The festival took place in Strzebrzeszyn, 6-12 August. Other eminent guests included Hanna Krall, Dorota Masłowska, Szczepan Twardoch, Wit Szostak, Marcin Podolec, Urszula Kozioł and Rev. Adam Boniecki.

Ewa Sharwood Smith,  Wyborcza, 10 August 2017


Where is Wioletta Greg?

For the whole hour of the ‘Outsiders’ session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 14 August, we wondered if Wioletta Greg would show up or not. Our heads turned automatically each time a shadow passed behind the two glass doors, hoping it might be her. To our great disappointment, however, she did not materialize.

Nick Barley, the Director of EIBF, who was chairing the session, told us that she was in Edinburgh and that he expected her to arrive any minute. Greg’s interpreter was on stage, along with the author Edouard Louis, with whom Greg had been paired for this session. Edouard took full advantage of the additional time available and gave us a fascinating inside into his working class background, family life, his metamorphosis and his view of the world. He spoke especially of the lack of understanding of the working class majority by the middle class minority, and of the fear, aggression and violence which are, according to him, an inherent part of the lives of poor working class people across the world.

Unfortunately there was no comparison made between his novel and Greg’s, very different in their style and the author’s perception of the world. Edouard read, in English, a passage of his book The End of Eddy, while Nick Barley gave a French reading of the same extract. Greg’s interpreter read from Swallowing Mercury in English, but nobody read it in Polish. Personally, I would have preferred to hear Edouard Louis reading his own French text, and the Polish interpreter reading Swallowing Mercury in her native Polish, as Greg wasn’t there to read it herself. It is important to hear the music of a foreign language read by a native speaker, rather than a non native speaker struggling to do so. I would still like to know what the point of the reversal was.

A Dutch lady, sitting next to me, had travelled all the way from near Dunkeld to hear Wioletta Greg. Her daughter-in-law is Polish, and she was hoping to learn about good Polish contemporary literature. There was six of us from Zielony Balonik, the Scottish Polish Book Club. We had all read Swallowing Mercury, some of us in Polish and some in English, and we were truly surprised and disappointed that Greg did not show up and had not communicated with the organisers. The only consolation is that we have discovered a great new French author!

Grażyna Fremi


EIBF Miedzianka / Kupferberg

On the 13 August Philip Springer – the author, and Sean Gasper Bye – the translator of History of a Disappearance, appeared at EIBF. The translator was in the audience and signed the books, along with the author, after the talk. It was interesting to hear from Springer about his way of working and how he got inspired to write this story. Since it was published in Poland in 2011 he had written 6 other books! Springer is interested in interpretations of events, how myths  and different versions grow around difficult times and happenings. According to Springer, these mysteries and sometimes lays, are more reveling about the social history than facts alone.

Bye’s speciality is translation of non-fiction. In addition to Polish he also translates from Russian and French. He is American of Polish parentage on his mother side, and lives in New York. Bye read this book shortly after it was published and loved it so much that he kept mentioning it to various publishers and eventually, on a publishers trip to Krakow, it was taken up by Restless Books from Brooklin NY, which seeks  ‘extraordinary international literature that feeds our restlessness: our curiosity about the world, passion for other cultures and languages, and eagerness to explore beyond the confines of the familiar.’

The power of literature seem to be putting Miedzianka back on the map. A new brewery has been opened up by a young couple from Wrocław and a cafe / bookshop and art gallery is built by a hipster from Warsaw. So in addition to reading Springer’s book, Miedzianka or Kupferberg is a must destination on our next visit to Silesia!

Grażyna Fremi


Filip Springer at EIBF

Filip Springer, History of a Diseappearance

This Sunday 13 August 6:30pm Filip Springer is going to talk about his book at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I am going to be there and it is our next reading. I have started reading it Polish and just been to Karpacz on holidays, so it feels very real.


Browse – Czerniowce

I have just read two lovely short stories in Browse, The World in Bookshops, edited by Henry Hutchings and published this year by the fantastic Pushkin Press. The opening story by Ali Smith, Bookshops Time, is about her two favourite bookshops in Inverness, Melvens and Leakey’s, and the second one by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov, Something That Doesn’t Exist, translated from Russian by Amanda Love Darragh. The latter one has several connections with our last reading – City of Lions and East West Street.

It is about Marina Libanova’s little shop, ‘Bukinist’, in Chernivtsi (Czerniowce in Polish), a city in the middle of Bukovina region, in the south-west Ukraine (272 km from Lviv). Europe’s geopolitical changes are reflected on the bookshelves of this small shop and in its fortunes.

Kurkov comes to give a reading and to sign his novel. At the same time he is searching for a book he had lost, The Ballads of Kukutis, by a Lithuanian poet Marcelijus Martinatis, which he bought in Kiev during the Soviet era, in the late 1970s or early 1980s in a bookshop called ‘Poetry’ which sold only poetry. He tells us that ‘Poetry’ closed, after the first couple of years of independence, following the collapse of the USSR. Out of one hundred bookshops in Kiev, just ten remained.

Here are a couple of fragments to encourage you to buy this book and to read this and other stories;

If you have never been to Chernivtsi – and I’m almost 100 per cent certain that you haven’t – all I will say is that a hundred years ago the city’s bookshops used to sell books in German, Romanian and Yiddish. and the majority of the city’s inhabitants spoke German right up to the end of the First World War – it was part of the Austro – Hungarian Empire, after all. When the empire was replaced by the Romanian monarchy, German was superseded by Romanian in terms of both the spoken and the literary language of the city.

Her shop is a veritable cornucopia of rare and interesting books. Books in Romanian and German, published in Chernivtsi, but a hundred years ago, in a different country, when life itself was very different. Books in Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian and even a few in Yiddish, which was the main language spoken in Chernivtsi for hundreds of years and which, even today, seems perfectly suited to its old alleys and cobbled streets.