The Story of a Disappearance (2017)

Polish title: Miedzianka: Historia Znikania (2011)
By: Filip Springer
Translated by: Sean Gasper Bye
Published by: Restless Books
Originally published by: Wydawnictwo Czarne

History of a Disappearance is the fascinating true story of a small mining town in the southwest of Poland that, after seven centuries of history, disappeared. Filip Springer (born 1982) is a self-taught journalist who has been working as a reporter and photographer since 2006. His journalistic debut—History of a Disappearance: The Forgotten Story of a Polish Town—was shortlisted for the Ryszard Kapuściński Literary Reportage Prize in 2011 and was nominated for the Gdynia Literary Prize in 2012. He was also shortlisted for the Nike Literary Prize in 2012 and winner of the third annual Ryszard Kapuściński fellows contest for young journalists. Sean Gasper Bye translation is a winner of Asymptote Journal’s 2016 Close Approximations Translation Contest. 

Zielony Balonik book club notes:

The general feeling was that this was an interesting and engaging book exploring the complexities of Silesian (and European history), particularly in the 20th century and presenting the experiences of loss, displacement, exploitation and poverty through the stories of individuals.

It also showed the way in which views and perspectives are partial and limited through the overlapping, occasionally contradictory and inconsistent testimonies.

There’s a strong sense of how uncontrollable and powerful outside forces impact on the individuals living their lives in a small town. Discussion covered the terrible sufferings of displaced groups – the Germans evicted from their properties, the Poles from theirs in the East and then from Medzianka itself – and the sense of loss and impermanence this created; the use of recurring features like the cross, the tomb, the yellow villa; the way in which events and physical features were interpreted and misunderstood at the time and later (the treatment of the miners, Ueberschaer’s tomb, the destruction of Medzianka, Mrs Siuta – the Evil Woman – and so on). 

Springer’s use of collages of short, overlapping, sometimes contradictory statements in some sections gave a sense of the different perspectives and his use of the present tense gave a sense of immediacy and partial perspective (and though some – Zenon! – found it annoying to begin with).

The book was seen as a readable, well-balanced and humane presentIon of the sad loss of several communities, an act of excavation. However, some felt that though the story needed to be told and indeed was well told, there was a limited audience who would be interested in it – even though we live in a time when there are many displaced people. 

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