Literary novel
Zyta Rudzka
Soft Tissues

Rudzka depicts the masculine soul with an empathy that’s both affectionate and merciless all at once

I washed my hands. My father, a doctor of the most general kind of medicine, held the opinion that a physician should scrub his paws in his consulting room as often as he washes his hands of a woman. To cover his tracks – he never stopped soaping himself, every day of the week and at weekends too. He was frankly surprised that his fingerprints hadn’t worn off; I was always spotting his gaze fixed on women’s bums – he’d pout, and a grimace of fake disdain would soften his rancour.

I used the hand dryer, positioning my limbs like a sleepwalker. The roar of the machine confirmed the diagnosis – I had just one wish left: to be shut in a sensory deprivation tank.

The world has overtaken me, and that’s the defeat I’m proudest of. I prefer to be less firmly hooked up to that cesspit.

Hence penance in the pissoir – it takes me longer and longer, this is life’s new sinew.

On the way out I looked at myself in the mirror. If I’d known what I’d see, I’d have given myself an anaesthetic.

I can’t wipe the image from my mind. Worse than at Chernobyl. I feel blackened. By thought, deed and neglect. The phrase “dead tired” has ceased to be a metaphor.

Sooner or later old age will burst in on me, but I’m armed to the teeth – I’ve had implants done. I paid through the nose, I’ve stuffed an Italian car into my gob. My life has never been all that grand, and that’s by design. I like modesty in all things – except for my oral cavity.

I’m careful not to smile too much, or my fine set of teeth outshines the rest and I look like happy plastic. I smoothed my hair.

In recent years I’ve lost a lot of it. A once magical coiffure has left me with the phoney gesture of combing through an imaginary mane from front to back.

I’m finding it hard to accept my destiny – never again shall I feel the wind in my hair, not even if a cyclone sucked me up. I’ve heard of toupees and other addons for men. I have no plans to apply them.

I haven’t long until retirement, a little more to my demise, but I feel I’m already in the pluperfect tense. I’ve gained a lot from life, but I’ve got it the wrong way. And with this insincere unburdening of the soul, but genuine relieving of the bladder, I left the hotel lavatory in a mood as if it were a public toilet at the arse-end of nowhere.

I approached the reception desk and acted out a fictional phone call, rudely castigating the person I was waiting for, supposedly my son.

The employees and other listeners eavesdropped with rising humiliation as I ranted in a stage-whisper,  betraying the fact that I’m in the business of cardiac surgery, and for the past twelve hours I’ve been standing at a table, doing the dirty work on an open heart – the way I described it was truly heart-breaking.

I don’t know where I got this need for a false confession. I buttoned myself up all over. I respect decent clothing. No one can accuse me of a lack of breeding when it comes to clothes. I dress tastefully, smartly, not in fashion, but with timeless style. Even in situations that smack of intimacy, when – willing or not – one bares oneself entirely, I’ve always preferred to keep the top half of my threads on.

Excerpt translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Literary novel
Zyta Rudzka
Soft Tissues

Rudzka depicts the masculine soul with an empathy that’s both affectionate and merciless all at once

Publisher: W.A.B./Foksal, Warszawa 2020
Sales numbers: Foksal, krystyna.kolakowska@gwfoksal.pl
Foreign language translations: Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Croatia, Bulgaria – in anthologies

A novel by a woman about masculinity? Yes, but it’s nothing like a feminist manifesto. Zyta Rudzka doesn’t criticise men from the standpoint of an oppressed woman, but depicts the masculine soul with an empathy that’s both affectionate and merciless all at once. This monologue of a man in late middle age, a man undergoing an endless crisis of masculinity, really only focuses on two themes: his relationship with his wife (with women) and with his father (with men).

The narrator stops loving the most important woman in his life, and starts loving his male progenitor more; his wife is moving away from him mentally and physically, and his father is dying. So his monologue about these relationships gradually changes into an account of loneliness. The “soft tissues” of the title are the sensitive spots in the male identity. Rudzka exposes the feelings that men are afraid to display: weakness, a sense of defeat, dependence on others, and a constant need to be loved. Every thought the central character has and every decision he makes is guided by a quest for happiness in love and an effort to assimilate death, and as a result the narrative acquires psychological authenticity and philosophical profundity. In this story a man’s life is laid bare and deconstructed to reveal its lowest depths and its foundations.

Yet all this occurs within the “soft tissue” of language that shows great wealth, because the other main hero of this novel is talking. In fact Rudzka has written a sort of extended poem in prose, treating each sentence like a separate line of verse. She juxtaposes words on the basis of associations and false etymologies, uses plenty of alliteration and homonyms, and draws cultural allusions. At the same time, never for a moment does she lose touch with a genuinely “masculine” way of talking: brusque, sometimes even brutal, self-ironical and sarcastic. Potential translators will face a hard task, but also a fascinating challenge that will give them the opportunity to show off their linguistic ingenuity.

Artur Grabowski

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Selected samples

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Aleksandra Lipczak
Jacek Dukaj
Wit Szostak
Bartosz Biedrzycki
Zyta Rudzka
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Wojciech Chmielewski
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Angelika Kuźniak
Wojciech Kudyba
Michał Protasiuk
Stanisław Rembek
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Elżbieta Isakiewicz
Artur Daniel Liskowacki
Jarosław Jakubowski
Zbigniew Stawrowski
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
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Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Jerzy Szymik
Waldemar Bawołek
Julia Fiedorczuk
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Witold Szabłowski
Jacek Dukaj
Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Paweł Piechnik
Andrzej Strumiłło

69

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