Literary novel
Wojciech Chmielewski
Dargin Lake

A protagonist who has just lost his job and a close friend – in a search of a new beginning

I pitched my tent right at the water’s edge, its entrance facing the surface of the lake, so I could see it at dawn and at sunset. The lake was enormous. At night it murmured, and the cool air penetrated the fabric of the tent and gently touched my face. It made me think of everything that had recently happened in my life, of why I had ended up at Dargin Lake in the first place.

At dawn, the water was lit up by the pale, light-blue sky. The clouds submerged in the water looked like candy floss scattered over the lakebed. The large pine trees under which I’d pitched my tent stood indifferently, since they saw this image of day awakening over the expanse of water every day and in every season.

I would walk out onto the dock and look at the thin line of the opposite shore. Who lived there? Did someone spend their life there peacefully all year long and could they adapt their fate to the waves’ rhythmic breaking on the shore?

I would eat my breakfast at a wooden table not far from the water’s edge: tea, bread, sausage, cheese. I would wonder if I was still really myself, if maybe I was imitating someone else, although I was doing my best to shut out troublesome thoughts; I wanted to stifle them and that was why I’d stare at the wall of the pine forest, gaze down the sandy path, and after breakfast, dive into the green water.

By the shore, the lake was shallow. I had to get a hundred meters in before the water would cover me completely and I could swim.

I spent most of my time lying in front of my tent. I listened to the waves recounting their “own incomprehensible thing” – those words stuck in my mind from who-knows-where and kept popping up, coming back, despite the efforts I made to try and describe the sounds the lake was making a little differently, or at least in my own way. I have no idea where those words came from. The scent of the water and the pine needles accompanied these unhurried meditations. I definitely wanted to cut myself off from the world for a while. To forget about my friend’s too-early death, which held as much meaning to me as the breaking of the little waves on the sandy beach, as the lapping of the water under the dock.

Stretched out on a sleeping pad in front of the tent, I’d look at the lake, but often without seeing the water. I was back in the hallway at the hospital on Banach Street, where the stench of the sick made you immediately want to vomit, and then took you into its possession and held onto you for a long time – like bitter herb vodka with a dash of beer. On a hospital bed in the hallway, an old man, completely naked, was trying to put on a nappy. Without success.

My friend looked awful. His skin had gone grey and the whites of his eyes were completely yellow. He dragged his feet as we walked down the long hallway toward the window at the end. There were chairs there, you could talk. He was reluctant to speak of his illness, and I didn’t want to pry. Out the window, there were cars parked on a little square paved with cement hexagons, and further along was a metal chain-link fence and a lawn.

He told me that in the building next door, whose windows he could see from his room, they’d been shooting a porn flick the night before. He said when he was brought to the hospital he’d behaved like an animal, though he didn’t remember the details. And that in recent days he’d seen in front of the hospital out the window of his tiny, rented apartment a young woman, who knocked on his window even though he lived on the second floor. Parrots were flying around in the room, that’s what he told me, and he stared straight ahead with sad eyes.

But look, he said, suddenly lively, here’s a shelf of books, take what you like!

Excerpts translated by Sean G. Bye

Literary novel
Wojciech Chmielewski
Dargin Lake

A protagonist who has just lost his job and a close friend – in a search of a new beginning

Publisher: Czytelnik, Warszawa 2021
Translation rights: Wojciech Chmielewski, wojtus.chmielewski@gmail.com

Chmielewski is often called the bard of Warsaw, its inhabitants, its places, their minor affairs. He is a Varsovian, he feels comfortable in the city, whether downtown or on the outskirts, he’s walked across it every which way, he’s dropped into bars, listened to conversations – learned and incoherent, meaningful and meaningless, on the train platform, at the bus stop, in the toilet, in crowds of pedestrians, in corporations, at flea markets and in church. He doesn’t pick up on or describe great personages. His heroes are always people who don’t stand out from the crowd, who noiselessly disappear within it, who remain in the memory of their loved ones, though not always. They exist, but at the end of the day the world wouldn’t change without them. Maybe it would only be less bright?

Chmielewski is a nostalgic writer; he’s also a writer of the departing world, even when the pages of his stories or novels focus on the here and now. In his prose, nothing happens quickly or abruptly, there are no plot twists that send the reader back to reread the previous page.

Who is the narrator of Dargin Lake, Chmielewski’s new novel? A mature man, probably closer to 50 than 40. A peculiar man, because that’s what you’d call someone who’s never had a girlfriend, lives in the world of music, who spent years as a host on public radio, and passes the rest of his time reading – mainly in German, on account of his education – and in the company of a friend and his group, whom he met on vacation however many years ago. He’s a man at a crossroads, who’s lost his job and the friend who helped him breathe more deeply, see things more broadly and enter a world at first foreign, but with each month, with each visit to the tavern and each beer drunk, closer and more his own.

This is also a book about changing mores in contemporary Poland. Vodka, beer, unhurried storytelling about what used to be, about where and with whom. Or about why things were just as they were and couldn’t be otherwise. Chmielewski’s characters have no hierarchies or duties among themselves, no obligations to do anything. The journey to Masuria (the region of the Polish Great Lakes) is just a pretence – with its post-German strand, the trip is a small piece of the story of Warsaw. Tearing oneself away from reality, the city, a small interlude in a life once planned out and now taking its own path.

Wacław Holewiński

Translated by Sean G. Bye

Selected samples

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Aleksandra Lipczak
Jacek Dukaj
Wit Szostak
Bartosz Biedrzycki
Zyta Rudzka
Maciej Płaza
Wojciech Chmielewski
Paweł Huelle
Angelika Kuźniak
Wojciech Kudyba
Michał Protasiuk
Stanisław Rembek
Rembek
Krzysztof Karasek
Elżbieta Isakiewicz
Artur Daniel Liskowacki
Jarosław Jakubowski
Zbigniew Stawrowski
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Anna Piwkowska
Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Jerzy Szymik
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”

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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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