The Road to Babadag

By Andrzej Stasiuk.

Again, another breathtaking book from Stasiuk. He has probably written a great amount more in Polish – but we have to wait for it to arrive in translation. The translation is really good – but this could be in part because Stasiuk doesn’t overdo things. He states it all very cleanly. This is the photo which haunted Stasiuk for years and which provided an impetus for travel – though by the sounds of it that was already there long before.

There is an episode where he talks about all the pieces he has collected over the years during his travels and that he takes them out sometimes to remember. This book, and much of his other work, is a remembering that combines with these objects. This is a private remembering and he creates something new out of these tokens. If he was a chancer like Warhol or Hirst he would no doubt have an exhibition of these objects rather than creating something new. It strikes me that much of modern creative endeavour involves collecting things. Curation masquerading as creativity. This is a fine book, which can be reread over and over and dipped into. The chapter about Moldova was excellent.

 

 

 

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Dukla

By Andrzej Stasiuk.

Another fantastic book by Stasiuk. I think he perhaps is the most interesting contemporary writer writing today. His voice is unique and even though it seems that he writes about straightforward things there is such an atmosphere attached to these along with an undercurrent of thought and ideas. This is a novel about light and the town of Dukla in South-Eastern Poland – except that it isn’t really a novel and it isn’t really about these things either. It seems to me he has gone further than Gombrowicz in that form is present but it is very definitely broken down and that different layers are present underneath each structure and these peep through and take precedence at different times. But the book isn’t slavishly in thrall to these forms, it all happens quite naturally. Stasiuk really is masterful.

“There’ll be no plot, with its promise of a beginning and hope of an end.  A plot is the remission of sins, the mother of fools, but it melts away in the rising light of the day.  Darkness or blindness give things meaning, when the mind has to seek out a way in the shadows, providing its own light.”

 

 

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Nine

nine2By Andrzej Stasiuk.

Nine was quite different from Fado and White Raven.Having said that – it was a good ‘different’. I saw a quote from Irvine Welsh in the usual back cover superlatives and the novel has some similarity with his work – or the tone. The book is very gritty but also surreal at times there are flights of fancy and leaps about within the narrative so you have to concentrate to make sure you really understand what is going on. Generally though, it is quite an easy read – you are drawn into the seedy Polish underworld. I’ll keep looking for books by Stasiuk. This was well worth reading.

Soundtrack: Camper Van Beethoven – Pictures of Matchstick Men

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White Raven

stasiukBy Andrzej Stasiuk

A very strange novel. I liked it but not as much as Stasiuk’s more recent ‘Fado’. There was a strong current of melancholy throughout and the setting itself in the mountains gave it a surreal almost fantastical edge. I am tempted to visit that part of Poland now – the South-East near the Ukrainian border. Not because I want to emulate any of the activities in the novel but because it seems it must still be quite wild there and not as touched by the West. This was his first novel – I think perhaps it shows in that his voice is not as authoritative as Fado. However I do have a very small sample size of novels I have read by him. There is another I purchased recently so will start that shortly. This is contemporary in some aspects, with the nature of the prose, but then there is a chaotic hopelessness that seems to underpin it all giving it some bite. I enjoyed but I think Stasiuk has written and will write better.

Some aspects of it reminded me of Cosmos by Gombrowicz.

Soundtrack: Loneliness – Ed Harcourt

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Fado

fadoBy Andrej Stasiuk

This is the best book I have read this year. Possibly for the last two years. What makes it so good is the prose, the subject matter, the ideas and the cohesion of the elements. These are a collection of short stories and when I found this out on receiving the book I wasn’t too happy as I generally don’t find short stories very satisfying. However these all follow a similar theme – that of travelling and memories and it could almost be thought of as a diary or journal but in no chronological order. This book does what all supreme works of literature should do – it makes you dream. After reading a paragraph you then sit and think about your experiences so half of the time I spent reading this book I actually spent staring into space myself. It is contemplative, amusing and there is a fantastic turn of phrase. I now know that I will visit Gallicia in South Eastern Poland in the future and that I will travel through the Carpathian Mountains. Stasiuk makes you want to see what he has seen and to revisit your own memories while experiencing and creating new ones. There have been a number of his works translated into English and strangely enough this book was reviewed on the guardian book blog as I was reading it. There will be reviews of Stasiuk’s other writings over the coming months as I buy and work my way through them. This gets FIVE stars. I haven’t been this excited since… I first read Gombrowicz and… since Arsenal went one up in the Champions league final through Sol Campbell’s header.

Soundtrack: The entire Velvet Underground and Nico Album. (Which also gets FIVE stars)

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