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March 2004

Magnetic Poles

Whether it's something in the water, or the tension of being positioned between Russia and Germany, Polish literature seems radioactive. In "Witold Gombrowicz, and To Hell with Culture," translator Benjamin Paloff introduces "the most important" unknown twentieth-century novelist, whose "Rat" simply chews its way through the reader. Translator Michael Kandel goes hiking with science fiction writer Marek Huberath, who salvages some humanity post-apocalypse in "Yoo Retoont, Sneogg. Ay Noo." For comic relief, Jerzy Pilch gives us some good old-fashioned drunken lust; Magdalena Tulli lifts us up with philosophical prose that reads like incantation; Pawel Huelle spins us 'round with exuberant narration. Then the poets--ah, those Polish poets: Stanisław Baranczak, Adam Zagajewski, Bronisław Maj, Tadeusz Różewicz.

“Why don’t I have”
Why don't I have You? Why don't I see the trace of Your hand in the inhumanly rational construction of a blade of grass. The blackbirds' song for me is only ownerless, I can't hear Your…
Translated from Polish
from The Mighty Angel
By Jerzy Pilch
Chapter One: The Yellow DressBefore the mafiosi appeared in my apartment in the company of the dusky poetess Alberta Lulaj, before they wrenched me from my drunken sleep and before they set about demanding-first…
Translated from Polish by Bill Johnston
By Lars Saabye Christensen
Each day that whole summer, apart from the week when she was to learn to swim, Andrea stood at the quay and waited as the Prince drew in to land. It wasn’t the passengers she wanted to see, as they…
Translated from Norwegian by Kenneth Steven
from Dreams and Stones
By Magdalena Tulli
The tree of the world, like every other tree, at the beginning of the season of vegetation puts out tiny delicate golden leaves which with time acquire a dark green hue and a silvery sheen. Then they…
Translated from Polish by Bill Johnston
Untold Hitlers
By Vijay Dan Detha
The five were only men. Some younger, some older, all between thirty and fifty. The eldest was beginning to gray here and there, but the others had heads of hair black as bumblebees. They looked like…
Translated from Rajasthani by Christi A. Merrill & Kailash Kabir
from Mercedes-Benz
By Paweł Huelle
Published in 2001, this novel takes the form of a long letter addressed to the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, who died in 1997. In this extract, during a driving lesson the narrator tells his instructor,…
Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
from Frau Teleprocu
By J. Rodolfo Wilcock & Francesco Fantasia
Dante and PhilosophyPhilosophy contracted a well-trained muscle and lifted her bosom invitingly toward Dante. He leaned forward and snatched a sliver of onion in his teeth.“The sauce too,”…
Translated from Italian by Lawrence Venuti
from The Professor’s Knife
I Trains a freight train cattle cars in a very long line it goes through fields and forests through green meadows over grasses and herbs so quietly the buzzing of bees can be heard it goes through the…
Translated from Polish
Basra Stories
I was born in Basra many times, in all of the stories that I heard about it-in the stories which were told around me when I was a child, in the images I formed of it during my first trips there with my…
Translated from Arabic
“I lie with my face low”
I lie with my face low in the grass, a lark high above us. An ant drags a dry stalk across my hand. I see what it sees: precipitous pores, a forest of grass, the treacherous peaks of sand. Salty sweat…
Translated from Polish
Witold Gombrowicz, and to Hell with Culture
Witold Gombrowicz is probably the most important twentieth-century novelist most Western readers have never heard of, which is to say that he is the kind of writer whose following consists largely of…
Where Did I Wake Up
By Stanisław Barańczak
Where did I wake up? where am I? Where'smy right side, where's the left? where's above, andwhere's below? Take it easy, that's my bodyon its back, that's the hand I useto hold…
Translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh
A record plays on a turntable
Photo by Jace & Afsoon on Unsplash
Music Heard with You
By Adam Zagajewski
Grave Brahms and elegiac Schubert, / a few songs, Chopin's third sonata
Translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh
The Rat
By Witold Gombrowicz
The terror of the whole neighborhood, which had been so settled and well-off, was a brute, a scamp, and a brigand known as the Hooligan. He was born in the middle of nowhere on an expansive plain, grew…
Translated from Polish by Benjamin Paloff
Climbing with Huberath
I was surprised to hear that Marek Huberath was a mountain climber in his spare time. I thought, “Maybe not a real mountain climber.” People do like to boast. He was achiever enough, not only…
Yoo Retoont, Sneogg. Ay Noo
By Marek Huberath
Finally Tib's gray gown fell to the floor, and the Dags started to climb up her leg.
Translated from Polish by Michael Kandel