A literal translation of the title would be something like this: Shadow Chasing Shadow. It is a story of what you may call a lyrical investigation. Mikołajewski throughout his life was fascinated by Zuzanna Ginczanka. Ginczanka was a Polish-Jewish poet, born in 1917, she was executed during the Second World War, at the age of 27. She published one book with her poems, On Centaurs, but her impact has been far-reaching.
Mikołajewski discovered Ginczanka’s poetry in high school. Not much has been known about her fate, but from what was known it was clear that she was a personality. Throughout his life as a poet, writer and translator Mikołajewski gathered snippets of knowledge about her life and art.
Then one day Silvano De Fanti, an esteemed translator of Polish literature to Italian, called Mikołajewski inquiring about your, independent, Polish women poets he could translate for an anthology. Thus ensued an exchange of letters, later published in one of the Polish weekly magazine Wysokie Obcasy in 2004. Mikołejwski sends De Fanti a sample of Ginczanka’s work asking him to guess the poet’s name. Then throughout a series of letters he shared what he found out about her life and work. He manages to track down people who have met her and remembered her.
After the publication, more people get in touch to share their memories of, usually brief, encounters with Ginczanka. Mikołajewski travels to meet them, also on his other trips, he takes detours to go to places where she’s been known to live. He is chasing a shadow, becoming one himself. He researches literature, finds out about a movie and is contacted by the director, even finds a fellow man also obsessed with Ginczanka. All of them happy to share what they found. Gradually there is a snowball effect and Ginczanka is back in public memory. Everyone is talking about her.
This is where exhaustion kicks in, tinged maybe a bit with jealousy. Mikołajewski withdraws from the mainstream research on her. He knows it’s time to stop, she is not his own anymore, instead everyone wants a piece. He doesn’t mention this explicitly, but I think in a way their ‘relationship’ stopped being special. If everyone knows about Ginczanka, she is no longer his special shadow to chase. And clearly, everyone knows about her, even if we use Wikipedia as the lazy evidence, her note there in English is extremely long for someone who died at 27 and only published one book.
It is as much a book about Ginczanka, as one about Mikołajewski. About the obsession, the chase, the lyrical investigation. He jumps between the memories and impressions, only to end with a short play he wrote for and about her. You will find all literary forms in this book as if he’s trying to capture her essence and it’s constantly eluding him. The writing is beautiful, the story gripping and it ends exactly where it should. A book to slowly read on a single long afternoon. To let the mood seep into you, the lyrical, but also the terrifying time of war. Compassion and betrayal. Like a vivid dream.