Olanda by Rafal Wojasinski
Tranaslated by Charles S. Kraszewski

Reading and writing about as diverse a range of books as I can manage is always an aim of mine here on the Ramblings; though I *am* aware that I don’t always step outside of my comfort zone as much as I should. The author of the book I’m writing about today is a case in point: Wojasinski is a Polish writer, and I can probably count the number of wordsmiths I’ve read from that language on one hand (Tokarczuk, Lem, Jasienski, Hlasko, Kapuscinski, Schulz – ok, two hands…) Anyhoo, as they say, I’m always keen to explore books from other countries and cultures, and when the lovely Glagoslav publishers offered me a review copy of “Olanda”, I was intrigued.

Wojasinksi is a new name to me, yet he’s an esteemed author of fiction and drama, with awards for his works under his belt. Many of his writings have appeared on Polish radio, and “Olanda” in fact contains the text of one of his radio plays, “Old Man Kalina”. But the bulk of the book contains a collection of short works which as well as being beautifully written throw light on the lives of marginal characters living out their existence as best they can.

If you’re not a believer in love, you’re a believer in the void.

The title story is the longest, and it’s narrated by a man unnamed until the end. In what is in effect a monologue, directed at his beloved Olanda, he looks back over his life and contemplates the world around him. Each chapter is titled simple “The Next Chapter” and he wanders mentally far and wide; from his start in life cleaning out sumps of human waste, to working as a cleaner in a school, to meeting his friend Wladek, everything is laced with his philosophical outlook. And the characters in “Olanda” often recur in the other stories in the collection, but this time we seem them from viewpoint other than our original narrator – which might suggest that the latter is not exactly a reliable one.

As I mentioned above, these characters are marginal; whether a gravedigger, a defrocked seminarian, a barstool philosopher or a girl with learning difficulties, each is intriguing and has their own story tell. The stories are often tragic (“The Void” was particularly devastating) but each is conveyed in beautiful, lyrical prose.

What was God thinking, when they were gassing children in the death camps? What?

“Olanda” is translated by Charles S. Kraszewski who also provides an erudite introduction exploring the themes of Wojasinski’s work as well as its context; and this is particularly useful when exploring how the author’s texts are informed by the effects on Poland of WW2. There’s a darkess underlying these stories which surfaces sometimes obliquely. But even without this, the prose and narratives of Wojasinski make for fascinating reading.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked this book up, but I was gripped by the narrative voice from the start and read through it almost in one go. There’s a slightly dream-like quality to the writing; the characters and their stories will stay with you; and I did find myself wondering why there’s so little about Wojasinski on the InterWebs. On the strength of this, he’s definitely an author needing more translation and exploration! 😀

(Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks!)