Polish books and writers are well known around the world. However, it is quite hard to find translations of authors who are not Nobel prize winners, like Wisława Szymborska or Czesław Miłosz. However, since they deserve at least the same amount of your attention, I present you the list of very fine and inspiring Polish literature.
Why did I choose these Polish books?
If you have any experience with Poland you probably know that Polish people have a tendency to create quite depressing stories. We somehow cannot help ourself and keep coming back to the traumatic stories of Second World War or alienation during the communistic rule.This is why I was trying my best to do it differently. The results? Well, st least I tried!
I choose books that don’t necessary tells the story about the war and depression. Instead I was trying to choose stories about fascinating every-day men. Or authors who invite you to their absoluetely immersing worlds.
Polish non fiction – translations
Mariusz Szczygieł “Gottland”
Yesterday I was at the discussion about modern travel books and literature non-fiction. One of the speakers – Urszula Jabłońska – said that there are probably non journalists who know how to write a reportage about things that are not traumatic and sad. Except Mariusz Szczygieł.
Right after Kapuściński, he is perhaps the most well known and beloved Polish non-fiction writer. Loved by fans and critically acclaimed – has just been awarded with Nike award last week (the most prestigous Polish prize). Only god knows how he communicated with his endless foreign friends and sources, as he doesn’t speak any language except Polish.
This doesn’t stop him from describing not only Polish reality. He is best known for his books about Czech Republic, especially “Gottland” which has been translated to Bulgarian, Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italy, Russian, Spanish and Ukranian. It has won Prix l’Amphi for the French edition, Europe Book Prize – Le prix du livre europeen 2009 and the Gratias Agit Czech State Award.
Find it on Amazon
Ryszard Kapusciński, Nobody leaves
Polish title: “Busz po polsku/Notes”
Yes, Kapusciński was famous for his increadible travels to tropical lands. In grey, communistic times his books were the biggest substitue of exotic voyage that nobody in Poland could experience. A true idol and hero for thousands of modern journalists.
However, before he grabed his suitacase and checked in his very first African hotel, Kapuściński was focused on local issues. He wrote several reportages about working class Nowa Huta. And he also published series of short articles from his travels around Poland “Busz po polsku”, which is now available in English under the title Nobody leaves.
Interestingly “Busz po polsku” literally means something like “Polish jungle”. From forgotten villages to collective farms, Kapuscinski explored Poland that was not only completely distant and remote to us but also to the people who lived in Poland at the time of writting. The characters Kapuscinski meet during his travel were colorful and vivid, like taken straight from the works of Puszkin or Dickens.
Filip Springer, “History of a Disappearance: The Story of a Forgotten Polish Town”
Polish title: “Miedzianka”
Miedzianka was a small town in the beautiful Janowickie Mountains in Lower Silesia. Now it is gone. Why and how it happened? Well, that’s the story told in the book. You will find there topics that are common to the history and drama of the post war Lower Silesia. This were what used to East part of Germany after conference in Yalta become Western Poland. The complicated roads of Germans and Polish met in places like Miedzianka.
The book was so popular that it started a revival of Miedzianka. In 2017 Filip Springer organized first “Miedzianka festival“. The local old brewery was rebuilt and is now a very popular place. Maybe the town was given a second chance to stay alive in people’s memory.
“History of a Disappearance: The Story of a Forgotten Polish Town” was translated to English and German. You can check an excerpt of the book on Guardian.
Find it on Amazon
Polish Fiction – books translated to foreign languages
Jan Potocki, “Manuscript found in Saragossa”
Polish title: “Manuskrypt znaleziony w Saragossie”
This book is already a real diamond. It is nothing like any other Polish book and actually it wasn’t even originally published in Polish.
The author was an extraordinary persona. A Polish count who wrote in French – Jan Potocki. The plot takes place… in Spain and shows the adventures of eighteen year old captain who meets dozens of hippie characters: “a large and colorful cast of Romani, thieves, inquisitors, a cabbalist, a geometer, the cabbalist’s beautiful sister, two Moorish princesses”¹.
This fascinating story is full of magic realism and stories withing the stories. Which is why some see Potocki as a predecessor of Marquez. Some compare him to Cervantez. Whoever is right or wrong, the fact is “Manuscript…”is probably one of the most read Polish books ever.
Find it on Amazon.
- Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manuscript_Found_in_Saragossa
Anything from Stanisław Lem
For example: Solaris, Futurological Congress, Eden
If you are in any way interested in science fiction literature you probably already know who Stanisław Lem is. His sci-fi books were acclaimed both by the audience and the critics.
New York Times called him the most praised science fiction writer in the world. If there is some invention entering the market right now, Lem probably described it in his books 50 years ago. If you have a chance to read “Return from the stars” from 1952in electronic format, you might get a strange feeling when you get to the part where Lem described a bookstore.
“You could no longer shake the shelves, weigh in the hands of the volumes, feel their weight announcing the size of the reading. The bookstore was rather an electronic laboratory. Books were crystals with fixed content. They could be read using an opton. It was like a book, but with just one page between the covers. You turn the page by touching it ”
Check Lem’s official site (available in English, Spanish and German)
Find Lem’s books on Amazon
Segriusz Piasecki, “The Lover of Ursa Major”
Polish title: “Kochanek Wielkiej Niedźwiedzicy”
The sole biography of the author could be a screenplay. Sergiusz Piasecki was born in the beginning of XX century in Eastern Poland. As a teenager he escaped from Polish prison and move to Moscow. There he experienced revolution of 1917. Then he fought in war against Russia in 1920. Finally became a spy and at the same time – a smuggler. Didn’t say no to drugs. Finally he was arrested after robbing traders and attacking passengers on the train. He got life sentence, which was then changed to 15 years of prison. Quite a personality, don’t you think?
He started writing in prison (where he learned proper Polish). His third novel was smuggled out from the prison and published. That was “The Lover of Ursa Major”. A fenomenal book about Polish borderland and colorful life of its heros – smugglers. The book become a hit. The artists from all over the country were supporting Piasecki’s motion for earlier release from the prison.
“The Lover of Ursa Major” was translated to Italian. Unfortunately so far I was unable to find any English version of the book.
Find Italian translation on Amazon
Andrzej Sapkowski – The Witcher saga and Hussite Trilogy
Translated to ninteen languages, Sapkowski’s books are probably the most accesable for English speakers.
The Witcher saga
Does the Witcher need to be introduced? A white hair protagonist called Geralt of Rivia who’s job is to sly monsters is a favourite character of fans of fantasy. The Witcher’s world was massively influenced by Slavic legends, making the saga one of a kind amongs competition that tend to place their characters in Middleearthish settings.
The whole saga is not only a story about fighting with evil creatures. That is not even a main focus of the books. The Witcher series is a story about family, destiny and hard art of taking side in the times of contempt. The plot is full of politics and investigations. Spakowski’s writing is spotless, characters fascinating.
The Witcher saga consists of 7 books, which should be read in this order:
- “Last Wish” (short stories)
- “Sword of Destiny” (short stories)
- “Blood of Elves”
- “Baptism of Fire”
- “The Time of Contempt”
- “The Tower of the Swallows”
- “Lady of the Lake”.
There is also the 8th book about the Witcher – “Season of Storms“. However, this one was wrote many years after the story of Geralt and Ciri concluded and from my point of view is not a must-read. After finishing the saga you might also read a short story “Coś się kończy coś się zaczyna”. However it is probably not translated to English yet.
After the huge success of The Witcher saga, Sapkowski presented another fantastic series. This time the plot is taking place during the historical events of hussite wars. True events and historical figures meet here with magical world, which we observe through the eyes of the doctor and magic novice Reynevan.
The trilogy consists of the following books:
- Warriors of God / Gottestreiter
- Lux Perpetua
German and Spanish versions of the trilogy are easily accesable on line. As Sapkowski’s popularity can only grow, we might expect new translations any time in the next years. The Witcher game by CD Projekt became a world wide hit. And with Netflix TV show based on the Witcher saga, Sapkowski might become a new George Martin.
Find German versions on Amazon
Janusz Korczak “King Mat the First”
Polish title: Król Maciuś Pierwszy
In Polish literature, this is an equivalent of Peter Pan. An imaginative story of Matt, a boy who become a king as a boy. Sounds like pure fun. However, this is not an a candy story but a deep life lesson for children and parents.
Korczak’s writting was focused on preparing children for adult life and the book was a genius and smart tool to teach them how to make responsible decisions. The writre was an educator and advocat for children’s rights. It is worth to know that during the WWII he refused to leave ghetto (even though he had a chance to escape). Instead he stayed there and kept taking care of the inprisoned children.
So if you are looking for an extraordinary book for your children, read them King Matt the First. The author, instead of paternalizing, empowers children and treat them like adults who are capable of learning and taking decisions. The book is like no other.
Find it on EnBook
Man… I just wish Akademia Pana Kleksa was some day translated to English.