Literary novel
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
Elderberry Thieves

Klimko-Dobrzaniecki has created a story about ordinary life, set against the background of unfolding world history

Stubbornness is a terrible flaw. Stubborn people have it tough in life, and find it harder to die than others do. But stubbornness alone won’t kill you. There has to be a cause. Dad said there used to be a barber in Lwów who insisted he’d die in March. He’d told everybody as he cut their hair how his stomach hurt, he had a burning sensation in there, he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t even really drink. He was growing horribly thin but since he was stubborn, even though his poor health sapped his strength, he insisted on still cutting hair, though only until March, because in March he had to die. He’d be clipping hair, then suddenly tell a customer this was his last haircut because here it was, February, and he was going to die in March. Dad got a trim at his shop once too, in February, but there were two other guys sitting there waiting. And the barber said to my dad he was sure this was maybe the fifth time in his life cutting my father’s hair – he knew because he had a good memory for faces, and even more so for hair – but that dad shouldn’t come to him anymore, because he had to die in March. He started chatting to him about his stomach, the heartburn and about how his own father had had the same thing, and told him when he was a boy that he’d die in March, and then he did. It was a beautiful March, warm as May, a shame to die, but there was nothing for it… They’d set the date in advance – he had a good connection to the world beyond and had a dutiful nature, so since he’d made his appointment with God for March, there was no getting out of it. He kept his word. He died in March, but before he did, he bought his son – who would later become a barber and many years later also insisted he’d die in March – a beautiful bicycle. A red one. As the barber was cutting my dad’s hair he tried to sell him that bike, but dad didn’t want it, because there was nothing worse than buying something from people who knew their own date of death in advance.

(…)

In May dad went to Lwów to sort some things out. In actual fact it was to do with the barber. He absolutely had to see if the man’s stubbornness had taken its toll. He dropped in at the shop. A different barber was cutting the customers’ hair. So dad asked what had happened to the first guy. The barber said the previous owner had died in March. Was it his stomach? asked my father. Not at all, the barber replied – to dad’s total surprise. After all, he’d been talking about his stomach, saying that was why he’d be passing away in March! That was when dad learned all the awful details. At the start of March, in the restaurant across from the barber shop, three gentlemen sat down to an elegant lunch. They had soup, a main course, dessert, and then waited for coffee. As they were waiting, one of them took out a revolver and shot first one, then the other of his lunchmates in the middle of their foreheads. They dropped dead on the spot. The murderer arose from the table and, to the waiters’ horror, went straight up to them, but instead of killing them too, he asked for the check. They gave it to him quickly. He paid. As he left the restaurant, instead of fleeing the police, he walked into the barber shop. The former owner had no customers, so he sat the man right down in the chair. The customer ordered a shave. The weakened barber felt poorly – after all his stomach was still troubling him – and his hand wasn’t what it used to be. He nicked the customer. Then the man stood up and put a third bullet from the revolver in the barber’s forehead. The barber dropped dead like the other two in the restaurant. The shooter sat back down in the chair and calmly waited for the police. Moved by the story, my father brought it back with him from Lwów. But, despite the crime that took place in the restaurant across from the barber shop, I still had the urge to take my parents and siblings out for a fancy meal sometime. So maybe that barber never got to savour an infusion of elderflower… If he had, he surely wouldn’t have been so stubborn, because it was stubbornness that brought unhappiness down on his head. And actually in March.

Excerpt translated by Sean Gasper Bye

Literary novel
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
Elderberry Thieves

Klimko-Dobrzaniecki has created a story about ordinary life, set against the background of unfolding world history

Publisher: Noir sur Blanc, Warszawa 2019
Translation rights: Syndykat Autorów, monika@syndykatautorow.com.pl

The elderberry plant is accorded particular reverence in European culture. On the one hand, it is purported to increase vital energy. On the other, it is also believed to shelter evil spirits. Therefore, it commands respect. Should it flower a second time in autumn, this can herald the death of a young and beloved person. What is more, as folklore has it, cutting one down or damaging it can cause a death in one’s family. Antek Barycki, the main character of Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki’s novel Elderberry Thieves, becomes convinced that the world is truly governed by such principles – particularly the latter.

Life in Barycki’s village outside of Lwów (today’s Lviv) is life framed by the Catholic Church, folk beliefs and farm work. Yet this place of safety falls apart in a single moment, when the intensifying political conflicts of the late 1930s make it difficult for Poles and Ukrainians to continue to live side-by-side in peace. Barycki and his father are forced to flee their home village after a hateful neighbour’s actions lead to their loved ones being burned alive. The young boy must grow up fast – and when he does, there is no going back.

The events of the wider world – the Second World War, the Nazi and Soviet occupations, displacement, Communism in Poland – not only drive Antek back and forth across Poland, but also strongly influence his evolving views and beliefs. The young man abandons the faith of his ancestors, dismissing it as a superstition, and becomes a Communist. As he advances up the career ladder (he is appointed factory manager) he forever renounces the old world, the only remaining symbol of which is the elderberry tree growing by his house. Antek doesn’t search for reasons to why things happen; he doesn’t analyse reality – he blends into it, adapting himself to the situation in which he finds himself.

Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki has created a story about ordinary life, set against the background of unfolding world history. Elderberry Thieves takes the form of Antek’s confessions and is written in the dialect of Poland’s eastern borderlands, with a uniquely Eastern European sense of humour. In this book, it’s not man who is master of his own fate – he is driven by events that no individual has the ability to influence.

Katarzyna Wójcik

Translated by Sean Gasper Bye

Selected samples

<
>
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Anna Piwkowska
Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Waldemar Bawołek
Julia Fiedorczuk
Jakub Szamałek
Witold Szabłowski
Jacek Dukaj
Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Paweł Piechnik
Andrzej Strumiłło

69

Marta Kwaśnicka
Piotr Mitzner
Paweł Sołtys
Wacław Holewiński
Anna Potyra
Wiesław Helak
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marek Stokowski
Stokowski
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
HKD
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_Horyzont
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski
Małgorzata Rejmer
Rejmer
Rafał Wojasiński
Olanda
Wojciech Kudyba
Kudyba
Włodzimierz Bolecki
Bolecki
Jerzy Liebert
Liebert
Wojciech Zembaty
Zembaty
Wojciech Chmielarz
Chmielarz
Bogdan Musiał
Musiał
Joanna Siedlecka
Siedlecka
Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski
Drozdowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Marek Bieńczyk
Bienczyk
Leszek Elektorowicz
Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
Sinkowski
Szymon Babuchowski
Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Majewski
Weronika Murek
Murek
Agnieszka Świętek
Swietek
Stanisław Szukalski
Barbara Klicka
Klicka
Anna Kamińska

She climbed her first peaks in a headscarf at a time when women in the mountains were treated by climbers as an additional backpack. It was with her that female alpinism began! She gained recognition in a spectacular way. The path was considered a crossing for madmen. Especially since the tragic accident in 1929, preserved … Continue reading “Halina”

Wojciech Chmielarz

First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”

Anna Kańtoch

A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”

Marek Krajewski

The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”

Ks. Tomasz Stępień

This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”

Jakub Małecki
Szczepan Twardoch
Wiesław Helak
Maria Wilczek-Krupa
Anna Kańtoch
Rafał Kosik
Paweł Sołtys
Dorota Masłowska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Martyna Bunda
Olga Tokarczuk
Various authors
Mariola Kruszewska
Waldemar Bawołek
Marek Oleksicki, Tobiasz Piątkowski
Wojciech Tomczyk
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar
Ks. Robert Skrzypczak
Bronisław Wildstein
Anna Bikont
Magdalena Grzebałkowska
Wojciech Orliński
Klementyna Suchanow
Andrzej Franaszek
Natalia Budzyńska
Marian Sworzeń
Aleksandra Wójcik, Maciej Zdziarski
Józef Łobodowski

The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”

Piotr Zaremba
Wacław Holewiński
To the top

© 2020 The Polish Book Institute