This week, we are highlighting an excerpt from Towers of Stone, by Wojciech Jagielski, translated from the Polish by Soren Gauger. The book is forthcoming this month from Seven Stories Press, and is a closely-told narrative that seeks to explain the wars in Chechnya through two men.
The section we've extracted deals with the plight of Chechens stranded on a train that makes a months-long stop in the middle of the steppes. It's a seemingly brief episode, with penetrating observations about the consequences of this isolation and the effect it has on people and families.
Jagielski is one of Poland's premier journalists, considered by many to be the heir to Kapuściński, and he was in New York last week to participate in the incredible symposium at NYC, After Kapuściński: The Art of Reportage.
When asked whether there is controversy in Poland over a reporter's subjective involvement or perspective in a story, he said no, not about their involvement; trouble only comes up when the subject is Poland, and in that case it is over veracity. He joked that he is safe because his subjects are often far away. But in reading just these few pages from Towers of Stone, I was struck by Jagielski's close perspective:
“I made a habit of visiting the refugees in the train standing in the middle of nowhere, outside the village of Karabulak.
From far away you got the impression that the train had stopped because of some breakdown, or had simply taken a break in the journey due to the passengers' request. The people walked up and down alongside the cars, staying near to it, as though afraid of the train making off without them. They were stretching out their numb arms and legs. The men gathered in groups and smoked tobacco, the women bustled about, calling after the scattered children.
The illusion of it being a momentary break in the journey shattered when you got closer.”
Read the full excerpt here.