Multidimensional, lyrical and funny novel narrated by a dog
M could walk very quietly. Along the way, he had a particularly discreet companion in me. Generally, I couldn’t travel right beside him since it’s illegal. Dogs are not allowed to wander unleashed in the forest. They chase and startle wild animals. It happens – I can’t deny it. Truth be told, we find it hard to ignore the scent of foxes, does, fawns, wild boars and other delicious game going to waste while roaming the woods. In some exceptional circumstances, however, we manage to suppress our wolfish instincts. We do so when we value something more than hunting. Something, or someone.
The law is totally blind to one’s readiness for sacrifice. By design, it has no faith in gentlemanly predators. M did not suffer from such blindness, though. He could see and trust enough not to leave me behind the gate to the forest during his daily hikes. Hence, somewhat illegally, I was his faithful shadow, a companion from a distance, an unobtrusive protector. In the forest I would run up to him occasionally, only for a moment, to rub against his leg, exchange glances, wag my tail, or tug at his trousers when I had a hunch.
Why did M roam the woods? As I said, it had to do with the tuning. M did his best to harmonise some areas of the forest and of the world beyond it. He did that whenever he heard a dissonance. A dissonance would indicate to him that something was weak, hurting, wounded, or withering. That was his profession, or vocation of sorts, a type of voluntary duty.
I will gladly remind all those who gorge on the fat sausages that cause pork sclerosis that he performed his duties as the sole proprietor of Tuning the Green and Beyond, Inc. Although the company turned no profit, it freed M from the unpleasant thought of being nothing more than a freeloader. Besides, he was also working on his own soul and body. And he had much to do there.
What else? What else is worth knowing in order to understand him a little better?
On occasion, M would receive letters, mostly from Canada. Aside from that he read a variety of books quite often, or listened to the radio, preferably to pieces composed by the cantor of Leipzig who had a secret connection with the powers above; he liked the spruce tree outside his window, and he nursed me whenever I got roughed up by my buddies, or after I had taken some shot from a rogue smoothbore; he’d tell stories about knights and airmen to the kids from the hamlets, and stubbornly exercised his memory; he received a meagre pension, and often struggled with troublesome, racing thoughts; he thanked everyone for everything and would sometimes encounter pilot acquaintances with whom he claimed to have worked years ago.
In due course he met Marta and Monika, the daughters of K. Bernatowicz, the forester. He grew very fond of Monika, and fell in love with Marta.
The younger sister, Monika, was gravely ill – much more seriously than the trees cured by my friend. A black stone that torments and kills people was growing inside her head.
M tried to help her. His method, though different from harmonising the trees and the world beyond, was also rather peculiar. He would tell Monika stories he found in different places in the forest already described by me. And — listen to this! Despite its apparent shortcomings, the treatment proved rather effective.
Once my friend began telling the Bernatoiwicz sisters different things to make them smile and laugh during their secret meetings in the forest, he was ready to swear that Monika started to grow more in tune. This doesn’t mean that Monika started to sing famous arias from Rigoletto or The Magic Flute; day after day and week after week, however, her body and the thing inside it would gradually flush out the horrifying, jarring tones to reach the clear note of a typical nineteenyear- old girl filled with life and hope. M could hear that. He’d mastered that skill while harmonising the trees and the world beyond.
Excerpt translated by Mirek Lalas
Multidimensional, lyrical and funny novel narrated by a dog
‘I’d strongly advise against reading this book on a train, because you might burst out laughing or crying in front of people,’ warns one of the novel’s fictional characters. It’s not the only structural surprise here. A dog named Wabi narrates the story.
The novel revolves around an ultrasensitive man who, after waking up from a long coma, begins taking awkward steps into a world that’s blindly rushing by. He escapes the thick oppression of the streets of Warsaw to find peace in the woods. There, he mingles with angels wearing officer caps of airline pilots.
He heads north, guided by a deep conviction that, through his journey, he will cure a girl’s cancer when he arrives at the Swedish city of Uppsala. A madman? An idealist? The line is blurry.
Trudging through snow drifts, he ponders – do or die – the biggest questions under the sun.
The plot unfolds against the backdrop of Żuławy Wiślane, a ‘beautiful depression’ of virgin fens untouched by throngs of tourists rushing to the Baltic Sea. If the French speak of ‘deep France,’ this is ‘deep Poland,’ with the Gothic of Teutonic castles set amidst endless fields, locks, weirs, the half-timbered, arcaded houses of rich landowners, and the remnants of Mennonite graveyards.
After reading the book, I ventured into those parts to understand first-hand why the sight of Vistula’s alluvial valley left the novel’s protagonist so awestruck. Now I know.
The author, who works as curator at the gigantic Malbork Castle of the Teutonic Order, takes to the forest like a duck to water. In 1981 he left the capital city of Warsaw to explore the backcountry. ‘Our highrises smelled of garbage chutes. We fought for every morsel of cheese. No one smiled. I thought, “You just can’t spend every week, or year of your life waiting for the weekend, or a summer vacation”.’
The story got me hooked with its moods reminiscent of Edward Stachura’s All the Brightness, and the novels of Wiesław Myśliwski.
This multidimensional book defies categorisation. It contains much poetry and humour. Some scenes give you goosebumps while others make you laugh uncontrollably.
Translated by Mirek Lalas
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”