Literary novel
Wiesław Helak
Mount Tabor

The fascinating story of an individual tangled in history

And then he’d return – all sick inside, aching – from these wanderings home, for that’s what he had to call, in the end, his soldier’s room in the guardhouse, constructed of rough boards, but with a concert Bechstein in the centre. He ate his dinner – which his wife always provided for him hot and fresh – and then he’d sit down at the piano then he’d sit down at the piano, playing until late in the evening, so as to chase away gloomy thoughts.

Sometimes he’d have to arrange service schedules and that’s what he found most unbearable. The regulations clearly stipulated that every person’s freedom of religious practice was to be respected, whether that meant morning prayers, evening prayers, or the most varied holidays. And he had his hands full with them, as he said. One day he counted them all up. There were fifteen Orthodox holidays, eight Protestant, five Jewish and six Muslim – not to mention the Catholic holidays; a person could go batty. This one has to have leave for the Feast of Tabernacles; that infantryman needs to be free for Resurrection services on Easter Sunday; here the Julian calendar, there the Old Testament calendar; one has the Baptism of the Lord, another Yom Kippur, and still another Ramadan or Bayram – and don’t forget that the Muslim year, based on the lunar calendar, is shorter than the solar year, so the dates are all movable feasts… He tossed it all in the corner and returned to the piano with just one thought in his head: How are they going to fight when it comes to war? And in whose name?

And once more he remembered the Marshal’s bagel. Maybe Roman was right? That you have to count on your own, and not on strangers… He heard the words of his father tumbling through his head as he drowsed from fatigue.

* * *

At last autumn arrived. The days grew ever shorter and the rains fell incessantly, making the road to the little town impassable. This worried him, because Marion’s due date was fast approaching, she’ll need a doctor, or at least a midwife, but how? with mud and darkness covering the whole area… This thought kept him awake at night, what would be and how to make sure that the child would come safely into the world, but you can never be certain, as with death. He thought of his mother, when she was dying and that time, hidden, mysterious, when you don’t know anything. And he felt that again now, but after all, this is meant to be a beginning, not an end. Maybe the difference between them is small… Again, ill forebodings began to crowd in on him in those backwoods. Marion could read his mind. He didn’t say anything to her — as always, he didn’t have to – again and again she repeated: ‘Don’t be afraid, Janio, don’t be afraid…’ and gripped his hand tight, so that he would remember what strength flowed through them, between them. This time it didn’t help; he knew that the responsibility fell to him, and he didn’t even want to lay an eye on any of the old village gossips who prowled around the guardhouse, like crows, asking constantly if he needed any help. He chased them off, taking them for a bad omen, but told his wife nothing of that. He just imagined all the more strongly what he’d do when the day came – his motions, his gestures, his words. He wanted to get everything ready within him, now.

Excerpt translated by Charles S. Kraszewski

Literary novel
Wiesław Helak
Mount Tabor

The fascinating story of an individual tangled in history

Publisher: Wydawnictwo Arcana, Kraków 2020
Translation rights: Wydawnictwo Arcana, arcana@poczta.internetdsl.pl

Wiesław Helak is well known to readers as the author of novels set during the last two centuries of Polish history – including the award-winning On the River Zbruch. He is also a film director and screenwriter. His oeuvre, which came to the public’s attention rather belatedly, has been something of a revelation. His newest title, Mount Tabor, describes the interval between the First and Second World Wars – a difficult time in Polish history. The novel’s protagonist is Janio, a landowner from the Kresy, or Eastern Marches of pre-war Poland. He is a complex character. On the one hand, Janio has an artistic soul. He enjoys playing the piano and listening to opera, while on the other, he is attracted to military service – the setting of the world in order, a respect for command, uniforms, and authority. For these reasons, he decides to enlist in Józef Piłsudski’s Polish Legions. An event of epochal significance, both for the future destiny of the protagonist, and the axis around which the novel turns, is the May Coup (a successful military coup d’état led by Józef Piłsudski, in 1926). The dramatic circumstances of the Coup cause Janio to betray his ideals and take decisions which will have grave significance for his later life.

Helak’s novel is the fascinating story of an individual entangled in history, often facing difficult choices and searching for their way in life. It is also an interesting and far from clear-cut reconstruction of the – often idealised – realities of the Second Polish Republic. For Helak does not shy away from describing the competing world views of Polish society at the time, or the immaturity of some of the élite. Finally, he provides us with a description of European history from the early decades of the 20th century – the Soviet invasion of Poland and its consequences, the challenges arising from the formation of the newly-independent Poland, and its intensifying ethno-national conflicts.

Mount Tabor is a novel in which every reader will find something for him or herself. Along with the historical and psychological themes and love interest, Helak offers us detailed interpretations of works of art, battle scenes described with panache, and an extraordinarily vivid grasp of the landscape of the Eastern Marches. Furthermore, the easy flow of the language, which springs from the greatest narrative traditions of Polish literature, adds significantly to the pleasure of reading.

Anna Czartoryska-Sziler

Translated by Charles S. Kraszewski

Learn more about other New Books from Poland

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More about the author

Selected samples

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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
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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
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