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,

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

Julita Deluga
Wojtek Wawszczyk, Tomasz Leśniak
Anna Kańtoch
Andrzej Bobkowski
Wisława Szymborska
Zdzisław Kranodębski
Andrzej Nowak
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jarosław Jakubowski
Anna Piwkowska
Roman Honet
Miłosz Biedrzycki
Wojciech Chmielewski
Aleksandra Majdzińska
Tomasz Różycki
Maciej Hen
Jakub Nowak
Elżbieta Cherezińska
歐菈·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Ola Woldańska-Płocińska)
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文字:莫妮卡·烏特尼-斯特魯加瓦(Monika Utnik-Strugała), 概念和插圖:皮歐特·索哈(Piotr Socha)
作者:亞格涅絲卡·斯特爾馬什克(Agnieszka Stelmaszyk)
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艾麗莎·皮歐特夫斯卡(Eliza Piotrowska)
米科瓦伊·帕辛斯基(Mikołaj Pasiński)、瑪格熱妲·赫爾巴(Gosia Herba)
歐菈·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Ola Woldańska-Płocińska)
瑪麗安娜·奧克雷亞克(Marianna Oklejak)
拉法爾·科希克(Rafał Kosik)
亞歷珊德拉·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Aleksandra Woldańska-Płocińska)
巴托米耶·伊格納邱克(Bartłomiej Ignaciuk), 阿嘉塔·洛特-伊格納邱克(Agata Loth-Ignaciuk)
文字和插圖:皮歐特·卡爾斯基(Piotr Karski)
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羅珊娜·延澤耶夫斯卡-弗魯貝爾 (Roksana Jędrzejewska-Wróbel)
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尤安娜·巴托西克(Joanna Bartosik)
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Henryk Sienkiewicz
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Bronisław Wildstein
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Karol Wojtyła
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Anna Świrszczyńska / Melchior Wańkowicz
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Wiesław Helak
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Radek Rak
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