Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The eighth day of Marek Hlasko

James Sallis in an article in The Boston Globe urges to you to read Marek Hlasko.

Marek Hlasko burst on the scene in 1954 at age 20 and, by way of a stream of miraculous short stories and his work as reviewer of both books and film, soon came to dominate Polish literary life. He was a superstar, an idol, an image. Not only does he look like the newly created film star James Dean in the most prevalent photo we have of him, but he also, like Dean's character, was a born rebel. Forced to work at menial labor from early childhood, lacking formal education, he knew intimately that shadowy, violent world close to society's ground. "The road that led me to literature," he noted, "was very different from the one followed by my fellow writers in Poland. . . . I came to it from below. And when I began to write, I'd already seen so much that it was absolutely impossible for me to believe in official truth."

Of all Europe's war-torn countries, Poland had it perhaps the worst, surviving Hitler's war only to be set upon by Stalin's brigades. "My generation time and again had to face the possibility of their lives being threatened," novelist Tadeusz Konwicki states. "Traditional narrative structure could not express the psychological insight of the situations we found ourselves in."

Born to that aftermath, Hlasko possessed as well, at least initially, a hard strain of postwar hopefulness. Bleak and sere as might be the lives of his characters, all of them outsiders, the disavowed, the deracinated, those lives were invested also with rebelliousness, with a struggle for authentic feeling and for love that would not be put down.

Of his oeuvre I've read only The Eighth Day of the Week, and in English translation at that, but I've known people who revered him like a rebel rockstar poet. (I've not seen the movie based on that work, but the book certainly reads like a European film, love and hopelessness heavy in the air, the dialogue pregnant with accusations.)

These days, it's as hard to find information about the author as it is to find English copies of his books.

See also "In God's Playground" (The New York Review of Books, subscription required).

Test your knowledge of Polish literature.

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