Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Summer 2003

Tales of Galicia by Andrzej Stasiuk  


Tales of Galicia
Andrzej Stasiuk
(trans. Margarita Nafpaktitis)
Twisted Spoon Press, Prague
141 pp. $14.00 (US)

Andrzej Stasiuk’s Tales of Galicia is ostensibly a loose-knit collection of stories dealing with the inhabitants of a fictional Polish village somewhere near the border with Slovakia. Starting off as a series of disconnected portraits, the stories focus on individuals dealing with the effects of the collapse of Communism and the subsequent influx of Western influences and products. Stasiuk’s writing style is so subtle and straightforward that at first the reader is lulled into believing that he/she is reading a Polish Carver or Hemingway, but it doesn’t take long to understand that the subtlety masks a brilliant underlying complexity that thrums close beneath the surface. As the stories progress, characters from earlier tales wander into view and eventually populate each succeeding story breaking the apparent differentiation into a fluid form. And this is not limited to human characters. In Tales of Galicia, time, memory, death, and other conceptual entities become fluid and utterly animate, inhabiting the streets of the village as surely as Blacksmith Kruk or the red-haired sergeant. The narrative voice fluctuates between a nearly journalistic relating of events, a poetic musing on moralistic, metaphysical and psychological concepts, and a binding current of the surreal or the magically real. It is not at all a stretch to say that Andrzej Stasiuk is to Eastern European literature what a Borges or a Marquez is to the literature of the southern American latitudes—a voice of unique, transcendent quality and supra-regional pertinence. Stasiuk handles the interplay between reality and myth, natural and supernatural, story and novel so deftly that reality itself becomes a plain fantastic realm where ghosts walk beside men; where time, swollen and perpetual, flows between houses like streams after a storm; where the existential grit of life grimes every face with varying degrees of debasement and nobility, where disparate particles of narrative become a veritable and unified waveform. If this book is any indication of the quality to be expected from the Prague-based Twisted Spoon Press, we may expect the publishing house to become an increasingly important voice in the international literary dialogue. Kudos.

A congratulatory nod should also be given to Stasiuk’s translator, Margarita Nafpaktitis, who has captured the Polish writer’s singular and arresting command of narrative inflection with skill and aplomb. The uniqueness of the work must have constituted an immense challenge, and we applaud the result. Originally written in 1995, Tales simultaneously presages and renders innocuous the current rage-wave of linked short story collections.   

To put all this into plain words: We can not recommend Tales of Galicia strongly enough. It is a special and seminal work of the new Eastern European literary sensibility. And let us be the first to say it (assuming it hasn’t been said before): Andrzej Stasiuk has all the markings of a serious Nobel contender.

Yes. That good.