9, By Andrzej Stasiuk, trs Bill Johnston

Tom Tomaszewski
Sunday 23 October 2011 09:07

Stasiuk's story of a young entrepreneur struggling to survive in modern-day Warsaw begins in a smashed-up flat overlooking frozen streets resembling "a distant Christmas". It's an extraordinary image – the kind of thing Stasiuk writes so well – that says so much about the city.

Pawel, the entrepreneur, sips coffee in the early morning half-light, anxiously considering his options. It won't be long before the loan sharks who broke up his possessions come back to find him. As the novel pans out, we follow Pawel's desperate attempt to save himself by scraping the depths of Warsaw's drug-fuelled black-market economy populated by addicts.

But is there anything worth being saved for? Stasiuk portrays a city twisted by free-market excess where Pawel and his associates must simply survive. Of course, none of this would mean half as much if Stasiuk's political vision wasn't backed up by some intensely poetic writing – fluently translated by Bill Johnston. A book like this makes most British and American writing seem so asinine.

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