Sometimes you come across a book that makes you think: ‘how nice to finally talk to someone intelligent’. And that is one of those books, Głowacki’s ease of storytelling and ability to seamlessly jump from a raunchy anecdote into very serious musings on the nature of the world make this book a pleasure to read.
The copy I was reading this time (I’ve read this book 2 times before) is one I received from my friend. A beautifully published hardback that makes the world better just by its sheer attention to form. What drew me back to read it for the third time was the profound need for change in my environment that came towards the end of the third lockdown. It brought it on many levels, to start with the book is in Polish, so it felt like it gives me some distance to the UK, that I’m stuck in for the time being. Secondly, it is about a very different time and lifestyle. A different world, but one that we know existed.
Głowacki basically in no particular order other than his personal associations gives us a medley of anecdotes from his life. They are bound together by his thoughts as he writes the book, and also by the way his brain works. This is interesting because not only we get to know the story but also how his mind associates things.
We meet Głowacki in December of 1989, as he comes to London for two days to promote a play and give an interview. And then gets stuck as martial law is introduced in Poland and he cannot get back. And honestly is not even sure if it would be wise of him to try. He has the manner of describing events, that reminds me of how my grandfather would always talk about WWII as if it was one big adventure. We don’t really feel the sense of dread, he’s not overburdening us with the seriousness of the political intricacies. It’s all a romp, and he’s often almost blindly stumbling along, relying very much on his personal charm, which seems to work half the time, and on sheer luck.
Throughout the book we will be jumping back and forth from 1989, we’ll go back to communist Warsaw multiple times to get to know Głowacki’s wild stories. But we’ll also join him in his early days in New York, as well as get some glimpses of how he experienced 9/11. Like I mentioned the only thing that orders it is his own internal flow. But it works and that’s why I made the comment about the intelligent conversation at the beginning. Because it is an art to avoid some sort of systemic organization and let the reader feel as if the author is letting his mind flow freely. Which, I know is not true, but it requires a sharp mind to create this illusion.
Another thing that I adore about this book is the language. Despite years spent abroad Głowacki’s Polish is razor-sharp. I wish mine was in such shape. It is rich prose, but also one that has no problem describing homeless addicts of New York, drunken brawls in communist Warsaw and then seamlessly jumping to considering a mythological association. A language that serves the mind.
It made me think about many things, but this time probably his thoughts on being an expat hit the right note. The being here and being there at the same time, and the sense of never fully being somewhere. It may not be anything new, but it’s a feeling I think all expats sometimes need to have revalidated.
To wrap up I can only regret that there is a slim chance this book will ever be translated into English and an ever slimmer one that English-speaking audiences would fully be on board with it. It clearly is targeted to a Polish reader and one that can unpick references to communist culture and counter-culture at that. Nonetheless, there are also many things that are universal in his experience, starting with being utterly lost in New York initially.
It’s one of those books that I think I’ll happily reread a few more times.