WAB is one of the first Polish publishing houses created after the fall of communism. It was founded in 1991 and it owes its name to the initials of its creators: Wojciech Kuhn, Adam Widmański and Beata Stasińska. I do like WAB a lot mostly because of what they do for Polish contemporary literature. They launched the careers of such household names like Dehnel, Bator or Miłoszewski.
WAB is the sort of Publishing House that is in it for the love of it and this book is their anthology published to celebrate their 20th anniversary. They commissioned 20 of their writers to write a story with an author-reader meeting theme. It was interesting to see how varied the stories were and how each writer interpreted the theme. I might be setting the bar low but I actually enjoyed 19 out of those 20 stories. No matter how the theme was explored I could feel a certain intimacy in those stories, it felt a little like being in cahoots with the author and I really liked that. Sometimes it felt like watching a play from backstage.
You can find there Cegielski’s musings about censorship, Wroński’s alternative version of Sergei Yesenin’s death, Ćwirlej telling us why he writes, Kowalewski’s surrealism, Maślanek’s creepiness, Bator’s usual touch of exoticism, Fabicka’s story full of inside jokes and allusions to the Polish literary world, Miłoszewski’s one play act about discarded characters that never made it into a novel or even a short story (well, now they all did), Kuczok’s not all that original but funny and incredibly well written story about the frustrations of a second-class writer (which Kuczok definitely isn’t), Mizuro’s sad futuristic tale and more.
They weren’t all very strong stories but there was only one astonishingly bad – Marta Syrwid’s blabbing about some made up writer. I had no idea who Marta Syrwid was but I couldn’t believe she read much in her life given how repetitive, banal and cliché her story was. Here is a story of a very happy writer who produces a novel after novel, every one of them pleases the readers greatly, everything is neat and pretty in her life, until something happens and makes her realise how shit everything she’s written is but eventually she gets over it and gets back to writing bestsellers, drinking cappuccinos in the afternoon and meeting with her friends who like her very much. Oh yeah, Syrwid, I can already feel your alternative and artistic disgust and contempt. The whole story is written in that annoying hipster cool voice that stopped being funny in about 2003, the voice that if you look closely is like a blown out egg, empty inside and devoid of any value. It’s a voice that can be easily imitated by anyone who is only a little literate. This story made me so angry that I had to google Syrwid and find out who she was. Ha, as it turns out she was called ‘the best body in Polish literature’ and had her first collection of short stories published when she was only 18. Color me unsurprised. You might think it’s envy that speaks through me because I’m 30 and still working on that novel that’s going to change the world but I did write a book when I was 23 and I am so happy I never tried to publish it because someone might’ve just published it and now I would have to live with that. Like Syrwid will have to live with this amateurish story and whatever other junk she might have written.
Not to end this review on a negative note, let me tell you about Onichimowska’s story which talks about a certain accountant who is obsessed with his favourite writer – who we only know by her first name – Kinga. Ha! The accountant knows Kinga’s every book, he worships every word, he has noticed things no one else has. And finally Kinga comes to his town to do some Q&A’s and sign her latest book. Our hero goes to meet her, all sweaty and nervous, with a list of questions in his trembling hand. And what does Kinga do? Kinga disappoints him. She has no idea how to answer his questions, she hasn’t noticed she names her characters with only first two letters of the alphabet, she doesn’t know why there is a well in each of her books, she never thought of it, she hasn’t made her character Sandra inconsistent on purpose. The meeting quickly turns awkward for both the reader and the writer, because such things are better left to the critics. There is this running joke about literary critics knowing better what the writer tried to say or meant with his work, but I believe it’s true. Writing is often a semi-subconscious process and what ends up on the page is not fully planned and intended. Sometimes I need the reader to point out things to me that I didn’t realise were there. This is what I think this story is about – about the fact that the story belongs to the reader as much as it belongs to the writer and the writer does not have a sole jurisdiction over it. But then, maybe Onichimowska didn’t mean to write about that at all. Who knows.
*the title of this book means "Author comes in the evening"