It’s been a while since I read a really funny book. This one I got from my mother and its popularity in Poland clearly proves it’s not only me missing the funny side of literature.
As always with Polish books let me translate the title (also because in this case it is refreshingly simple to translate) Emigration. I knew upfront that the book is funny and from the cover, it can be easily deduced that the destination country is the one I live in, the one that sadly is just about to leave EU.
Our narrator has just finished high school in a city of the population between 10 000 and 19 999 (a beautiful statistical grouping in action) in which the main event of the year is the Gooseberry Day. You get the picture. Together with his friend, they decide to go to the UK to make some money, before starting university.
They are teenagers, they are not the most organized individuals and back then there were no budget airlines, so they travel by coach, only to move to more inventive means of transportation as the story develops. From the get-go the narrator happily shares his social observations, they are all absurd and funny, sometimes in a sad way. What is most important they all feel very familiar. So from the first paragraphs, we’re hooked, we may not be like the narrator, but we’re totally on his side and wit his point of view.
I will not go into the plot more, let me just say the absurdity of reality, combined with sharp social observation delivers results that make you laugh out loud, so please do expect sudden bursts of laughter if you see anyone reading this book. It has also been reported that some people start laughing and do not stop until they finish the book, which may potentially be dangerous, depending on the state of your abdominal muscles.
Malcolm does not spare anyone, not the Poles, not the Brits. We all have our quirks and we’re all funny that way. The more serious undertone is the undercurrent of racism, xenophoby, and violence permeating both communities. It is an undercurrent in the book though, for it does not necessarily aspire to fix the world. What is aspires to and achieves is being good entertainment.
I wonder if anyone will dare to translate the book, as the way Malcolm uses Polish is very particular. There is a lot of swearing, but also very rich language, full of wordplay rooted in Polish. He definitely has a knack for it. There is even a passage about how the vocabulary of one of the characters consists almost entirely of swear words (and Polish is pretty well developed in that area), hence English linguists would really struggle to translate or even make sense of what he’s saying.
As the plot develops we’re dragged deeper and deeper into absurd, to a point where reality and probability do not matter anymore, we just want the crazy ride to last longer. It won’t change my life, but it certainly made me laugh and I’ll be coming back to this book when I need that.