Short story collection
Paweł Sołtys
Nonjoy

The “nonjoy” of the title does not overwhelm us with hopelessness but encourages us to take heart

Adam looks like a former wrestler, boxer or maybe a footballer, but one of those less brilliant ones, the sort you love for ‘tough tackling’, a ‘good engine’, being ‘solid and dependable’. It’s the way he walks, his body straight, with a row of invisible medals on his hard, skinny chest. A gold medal in the shape of a calf muscle, a silver one with horsehair and a cross engraved with drops of oxygenated blood.

[…]

Since we moved here, I’ve seen him almost every day, and almost every day I’ve tried to match him up with former glories. Football glories one day, wrestling ones another, and boxing ones on other days. But his nose is rather unboxerlike. I ought to be the sort of person who looks for an opportunity, starts a conversation, buys the first round of vodka. Unfortunately, I’m not. So we’ve been walking past each other, sitting back to back at the Frigate or standing in parallel queues at the supermarket. Till today.

A small concrete square behind a large shop – a good shortcut for those in a hurry, with a low wall for the likes of us. Adam is sitting on the wall as I’m walking with my shopping, arms weighed down, a cigarette in my mouth like a compass needle. In the middle of the square, right in my path, in front of Adam’s feet, there are two dead cats. It’s impossible to say, ‘They look like they’re asleep.’ They’ve been mauled and are lying in unnatural positions, even for cats. Adam keeps getting up from the wall to chase away birds.

Suddenly he says to me, ‘The fuckers are taking revenge! Who knows how many of their children they’d killed.’

But he’s got no sympathy for bird revenge. A magpie trying to poke at a dull dead eye gets a kick and flies away shrieking. I’m standing there like an idiot. We know each other and we don’t, I was walking home, there are two dead cats in the spot where they probably liked to sun themselves.

‘Best to call somebody.’

‘Who?’ I reply, spitting out my cigarette, because I haven’t put my bags down. I’m just standing there like a scarecrow, for magpies and pigeons – there are no crows in sight. Finally, I rest my shopping on the wall and say, ‘One time when a bat flew in through my window, I called the municipal police. They have a special number for animals.’

‘They do?’ ‘Yeah, they do.’

I call and a woman tells me they won’t come if they’re dead, that it’s up to animal control or the city cleaning department. I pass this on to Adam. He curses under his breath, spits and lights up a Viceroy.

‘Somebody killed them.’

‘What do you mean? A dog maybe; there’s lots of big dogs around here. Or foxes – I heard they’ve been spotted in Kępa.’

‘Two of them? One would be hard enough for a dog, but two? No, somebody killed them and dumped them here. When I find out, I’m going to kill them.’ ‘Who?’

‘Whoever did this. I’m going to kill them.’

We’re smoking, chasing away birds, people are looking at us in surprise and disgust. There’s no good way to start a conversation over dead cats’ bodies. It’s muggy – there’s going to be a storm before dusk.

Eventually I hear, ‘Why don’t you go home. There’s a vet around the corner, I’ll go and ask, maybe they can… Or they might tell me who…’

I say goodbye, and he extends the hand of a former boxer, wrestler, or footballer. Or maybe a weightlifter? ‘See you.’

I pick up my bags and turn into the street from where I’ll turn into my own street. I don’t look back; I don’t buy the vegetables I was supposed to buy; Adam is going to kill them.

Short story A Skinny Man, translated by Eliza Marciniak

Short story collection
Paweł Sołtys
Nonjoy

The “nonjoy” of the title does not overwhelm us with hopelessness but encourages us to take heart

Publisher: Wydawnictwo Czarne, Wołowiec 2019
Translation rights: Andrew Nurnberg Associates Warsaw, anna.rucinska@nurnberg.pl

There is a Polish saying, “old age is no joy”, and it is this saying – alluded to in the title – that serves as the point of departure for Paweł Sołtys’s poignant short story collection. Having reached the symbolic age of forty, the writer – also known in Poland as a musician and singer – has turned his focus to ageing. That is, to something largely ignored by contemporary culture or plagued by stereotypes. In twenty-five short pieces, Sołtys tells a series of discrete stories set in different sociohistorical contexts. He plays with narration, demonstrating his stylistic range, though more often than not he writes in the first person. In one story, he is his own alter ego – a writer tired of author talks; in another, he is a drunk accosting people on a Warsaw street, trying to get them to drink beer with him. Elsewhere, he is a child naively observing his grandparents, or a septuagenarian reminiscing about his youth in provincial communist-era Poland. Sołtys talks about ageing and transience in different guises in order to show that they are aspects of human experience on a par with others: different from childhood or youth but not necessarily worse.

The stories share a certain melancholy, reinforced by descriptions of decaying matter and withering bodies. A sense of being tired of life takes the protagonists by surprise. Some fight against it; others submit to it calmly. There is a place here for illness, sadness and dwelling on missed opportunities, but there are also small joys and the bustle of the everyday, which reassures and gives meaning to passing life.

Sołtys’s prose is close to poetry in its precision and brevity; it is wise without being condescending. He makes us believe that everyone has a story to tell, and that the feeling of dissatisfaction in the face of passing years is something natural. This is why the “nonjoy” of the title does not overwhelm us with hopelessness but encourages us to take heart.

Marcin Kube

Translated by Eliza Marciniak

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
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
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