Polish fiction : recommendations please

One of the great things about hanging out in the Paradox Cafe in Warsaw over the weekend, was being surrounded by books in an entirely – and I mean ENTIRELY – differently language. I loved the look of Polish on the page (and the sound of it to the ear too, although most folks were generous enough to speak English to us), and am half tempted to buy myself a primer so that I can begin to decode the issue of F&SF I was kindly given home with me for myself. But that’s a long term project.

So to be getting on with, I’d be really grateful if anyone has any suggestions of Polish writers in translation. I’ve already read some of Andrej Sapkowski’s Witcher stories, and have been recommended A Polish Book of Monsters (thanks, Jan!).

What else should I get my hands on?

For a bonus points, recommend your favourite Lem novel as – to my shame – I have never read him.

20 thoughts on “Polish fiction : recommendations please

  1. The obvious suggestion is Stanislaw Lem. I’ve not read much by him, so couldn’t tell you what were his best books.

    Cinema, OTOH. You should watch everything Krzysztof Kieślowski has ever made. Passenger by Andrzej Munk is also worth seeing.

    1. >The obvious suggestion is Stanislaw Lem. I’ve not read much by him, so couldn’t tell you what were his best books.

      Okay, well that question remains open. I think I’d rather *not* read Solaris because it’s the one story I’m pretty familiar with. Fancy reading something completely new to me.

      >Cinema, OTOH. You should watch everything Krzysztof Kieślowski has ever made. Passenger by Andrzej Munk is also worth seeing.

      I’ve def seen Red, think I’ve seen Blue, but think I missed out on White. But to be honest it’s been a long, long time.
      Will look out for Munk though, ta.

  2. Joseph Conrad is probably my favourite author. Having said that, he wrote in English so I don’t know if he counts.

  3. Neil:
    Stanislaw Lem was astonishingly prolific. Lots of his work was translated and published here: most of it serious, other stuff light hearted. He also wrote reviews of imaginary books – one of his books contained nothing but. All his books are worth looking out for. Two I especially remember as being very good (but not necessarily SF) are The Chain of Chance and Fiasco.

    Conrad was my grandad (the original Jack Deighton) ‘s favourite author.

  4. Had a few more suggestions by email:
    http://www.bookinstitute.pl/ is full of excerpts and other cool stuff (in English).

    Bruno Schulz
    “Cosmos” by Witold Gombrowicz.
    Olga Tokarczuk
    Lem’s “Solaris”
    Jacek Dukaj is considered as Lem’s literary heir, but none of his books has been translated into English so far. Book Institute has excerpts, though (eg “Other Songs”, a novel about alternate physics)
    Joseph Conrad, of course, is awesome too…

  5. Dukaj won The European Literary Award in 2009 for his amazing novel “Lód” (Ice). As a result the book was supposed to be translated into a number of European languages (inc. English) but I dont’t know how is the project coming along.

  6. Lem’s works are definitely worth checking out, and not just because they had an absolutely brilliant English translator (Michael Kandel). Kandel also translated a number of contemporary sci-fi stories which were later published in “A Polish Book of Monsters: Five Dark Tales from Contemporary Poland” (can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble). Last time I heard, the English translation of Dukaj’s “Lód” was a work in progress, but I have no idea how it might be going along.

    1. That’s multiple props for Polish Book Of Monsters, so I definitely will get hold of it. And I’m going to track down a non-obvious Lem I think. The dealers room at Eastercon is usually a good venue for such searches. 😀

  7. „Ice” is brilliant novel and it, amazingly, was critically acclaimed also by mainstream reviewers.

    To above-mentioned excellent recommendations I can add Stefan Grabinski, writer sometimes called the Polish Poe. His thrilling and atmospheric stories were published in English in an anthology “The Dark Domain”.

    There is also Slawomir Mrozek, dramatist and writer. He is master of grotesque and absurd. You may go through his short stories collection “Elephant” and his best renowned play “Tango”.

    And some old classic, “The manuscript found in Saragossa”. It was actually written in French, but the author was Polish. It is insane multilayered story-within-a-story-within-a-story and within-a-story novel :).

  8. “His Master’s Voice (original Polish title: Głos Pana) is a science fiction novel written by Stanisław Lem, first published in 1968. It was translated into English by Michael Kandel in 1983. It is a densely philosophical novel about an effort by scientists to decode, translate and understand an extraterrestrial transmission. The novel critically approaches humanity’s intelligence and intentions in deciphering and truly comprehending a message from outer space. It is considered to be one of three most known books by Lem, the other two being Solaris and The Cyberiad” wikipedia locuta, causa finita 😀
    There is no action in it, (almost) none at all. If you have read “Listeners” by James Gunn – the main plotline is similar, but the execution and conclusions – totally different. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

    Here is also an excerpt from a story of another Polish writer, Marek Huberath: http://wordswithoutborders.org/article/yoo-retoont-sneogg-ay-noo-1/ The story is called “Yoo Retoont, Sneogg. Ay Noo” (read it aloud, should make sense) and was translated by Michael Kandel.

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