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Killing Auntie, By Andrzej Bursa

Reviewed,Boyd Tonkin
Friday 04 December 2009 01:00 GMT
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From the admirable CB Editions comes a delightful discovery. Dead at 25 in 1957, the Polish postwar firebrand Andrzej Bursa acquired a reputation as a quick-burning, existentially tormented rebel: a literary James Dean of the Stalinist era.

This selection of his quirky, darkly witty work – poems, fables, above all the titular novella – does indeed summon the shades of Beckett or Kafka from time to time. Everyday life slips into scenes of fantasy or horror, as when the local Party sacrifices children to a dragon, "an old, blind, mouldy beast" that still tears them apart.

Yet Bursa's dark humour and deadpan satire – finely captured here by translator Wiesiek Powaga – keep utter bleakness at bay. Some will think of Dostoyevsky when it comes to the snuffed-out relative in the novella; read to the end, and you hear something like Joe Orton's wicked cackle too.

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