Weronika Murek’s debut collection of short stories is wonderfully fresh and entertaining, and in Poland it has duly been shortlisted for several literary prizes and attracted much media attention.
With a voice that is fresh and unusual in the context of the current Polish literary world, Weronika Murek’s stories could be seen as adventures in narration. The author constantly moves between two perspectives – one close and another far away. The setting – small Polish towns sometime towards the end of the 20th century – might seem familiar to Polish readers, but surprising elements invade the stories, transporting the reader to a different and unusual place. For example, a newly dead young woman refuses to inhabit her body and roams a town, talking to other inhabitants, some of them dead, others alive; a presumably missing cosmonaut communicates with the world on the wavelengths between radio stations; General Sikorski’s funeral cortege is marching now for the third time.
Such supernatural themes, as well as religious ones, mix with elements of folklore and reportage to create a universe that is simultaneously tangible and far-fetched. Perspectives shift suddenly, and while this movement takes the reader into another world, the narrative remains fixed in the everyday, but always in imaginative and witty ways: the Virgin Mary smacks her lips when eating a shortbread biscuit; two women in identical white dresses carry mirrors in which they catch furtive glances of men working in the fields; heavenly eternity perpetually catches and returns a ball of wool to an elderly and toothless Virgin Mary; a newly dead woman complains about the old, stretched jumper she will be buried in.
In these stories, Weronika Murek is prompting the reader to wonder at the possibilities created when the extraordinary intrudes on the mundane. In one of her press interviews Weronica Murek says: “If I walk along Stawowa Street in Katowice and I walk along that street every day, then I do not want to walk along that street in my writing. One might think that nothing interesting happens on that street, but in my writing I can furnish it with such manholes and gaps which will open up the possibility of a different atmosphere – not a different reality, but a different atmosphere.” This dreamlike and cinematic atmosphere, the surreal imagery and Murek’s wonderful ear for dialogue all combine to make her debut a joy to read. Weronika Murek is certainly a writer to watch.
Reviewed by Tasja Dorkofikis
Uprawa roślin południowych metodą Miczurina (“Growing Southern Plants the Michurin Way”)
By Weronika Murek
Published by Czarne (2015)
Tasja Dorkofikis is an editor and publicist as well as a festival programmer for Le livre sur les quais in Morges in Switzerland.