Literary novel
Jakub Małecki
Horizon

Małecki constructs a convincing narrative about the realities of soldiering and life after deployment

Here I am.

Bald and a little sweaty already, dirty shoes on the white carpet, a police car next to my left shoe, a comic book in my hand, blocks everywhere, two tanks on the floor in front of me, American ones, some kind of robot-dinosaur, a ton of little soldiers and a board game – I can’t see its name. The sweat is running down into my eyes.

On the wall, a poster from a film I don’t know, a drawing of a guy in a helmet, and one more – of a house, I think? A school? Alongside it, a large photo of some grinning cretin with a Finnish SAKO sniper rifle. A photo of me.

Milena led me in here a few minutes ago. She kept tossing glances my way, smiling uncertainly, expecting, probably, that I’d be happy to see all this. The toy soldiers. The drawing. That picture of me.

I wipe my forehead. I get up, toss the comic book on the bed, it slides off and lands on the police car. I rest my hands on my hips – there used to be no flab there, but now I have a little – and I do my best to remember how, exactly, I ended up here, at this moment, in this kid’s room, with dirty shoes on the white carpet. My old self in the photo is looking back at me.

Milena got up, placed her hands on her thighs and moved her face close to mine.

‘I’ll be back in a minute, literally, OK?’

I nodded. My sister touched my arm, then drew her fingers back.

‘Why don’t you wait in his room?’

So here I am, waiting, now more than slightly sweaty, and even more nervous than sweaty.

(…)

The room is like any kid’s dream, at least the dream of any kid back when I was small: large, with tons of everything everywhere – action figures, board games, puzzles and cars, plastic weapons, electronic gadgets.

I walk from the white door to the white desk, on which lie: a jigsaw puzzle box, a scribbled-on piece of paper and a mug full of felt-tip pens. I stand in the middle of the room, look at the wall again, and the guy in the photo looks back at me. Who took that picture of me anyway? Pytlak? Minty?

I imagine them hanging it up – the seven-year-old impatiently directing the work and the adult obediently carrying out his orders with a roll of adhesive tape – his father, my brother-in-law Hubert, a computer programmer with colourful tattoos on his arms. I wonder what he was thinking when, at his son’s request, he stuck this large image of me here. I turn my head away and inhale deeply.

No, I can’t take this after all.

I start pacing between the desk and the door. I’m leaving, I’m running away, I’ll apologise to her somehow over the phone; she’ll understand. She won’t. I place my hand on the doorknob and I can hear their voices. I swear under my breath. Their voices are distinct now – hers calm, his reedy, excited. I rub my chest. It’s tight around my sternum; my vision’s going dark. My vision’s going dark and I, Mariusz Małecki, age 36, unmarried, cholesterol normal, two photos with the president and an honourable discharge from the military, stand here by the desk. I take a deep breath, hesitate a moment longer, then finally place my foot on the sill and jump out the window.

Excerpt translated by Sean Gasper Bye

Literary novel
Jakub Małecki
Horizon

Małecki constructs a convincing narrative about the realities of soldiering and life after deployment

Publisher: Wydawnictwo SQN, Kraków 2019
Translation rights: Andrew Nurnberg Associates, anna.rucinska@nurnberg.pl

Jakub Małecki’s Horizon is a novel about war in the 21st century, and its victims. Mixing both fictional and autobiographical structures, Małecki and his main character share a name, age and place of birth, making us wonder how much of the author is present in this veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Not much, of course – Małecki, one of the most popular Polish authors of his generation, hasn’t patrolled Afghan villages, disarmed mines or, like his novel’s protagonist, made split-second decisions about whether to pull the trigger. But Małecki has also clearly done his homework and constructs a convincing narrative about the realities of soldiering – as well as life after deployment, once the only enemy is that hidden in the veteran’s mind.

In brief, precise sentences evoking military commands, Małecki shows us his hero’s state of mind as he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and struggles to pull his life back together. He’s troubled by the gazes of people on the street; the neighbours’ vacuum cleaner sounds like a rocket launcher, and vodka seems to be the best sleeping aid. He only feels comfortable in the company of his army friends who’ve lived through the same experiences.

That is, until the former sapper meets the young woman next door, who herself becomes, along with him, a protagonist and narrator of Horizon. Yet her battlefield is her family. Her mother’s tragic death, years ago, has left her with questions that she, as an adult, is now seeking to answer.

With each chapter, Małecki reveals new layers of this story, skillfully building suspense. And although the characters’ struggles with the past bring them closer to one another, Horizon is neither a melodrama nor a romance, but a brilliantly written psychological novel of manners, with Małecki filling out these portraits with evocative details – flourishes, obsessions, weaknesses. It is the very imperfection of the characters that makes them so strikingly true.

Marcin Kube

Translated by Sean Gasper Bye

Publisher: Wydawnictwo SQN, Kraków 2019
Translation rights: Andrew Nurnberg Associates, anna.rucinska@nurnberg.pl

Selected samples

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Malecki_Horyzont
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
HKD
Marek Stokowski
Stokowski
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski
Małgorzata Rejmer
Rejmer
Rafał Wojasiński
Olanda
Wojciech Kudyba
Kudyba
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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
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Adrian Sinkowski
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Szymon Babuchowski
Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Majewski
Weronika Murek
Murek
Agnieszka Świętek
Swietek
Stanisław Szukalski
Barbara Klicka
Klicka
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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

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Piotr Zaremba
Wacław Holewiński
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