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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.

The Rat

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

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

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

“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

from Mercedes-Benz

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

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

“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

from Dreams and Stones

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.

Where Did I Wake Up

Take it easy, that's my body / on its back

Music Heard with You

Music I heard with you was more than music . . . Music heard with you will stay forever with us. Grave Brahms and elegaic Schubert, a few songs, Chopin's third sonata, a couple of

from The Mighty Angel

Chapter One: The Yellow Dress Before 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

Yoo Retoont, Sneogg.  Ay Noo

Finally Tib's gray gown fell to the floor, and the Dags started to climb up her leg.


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