Poland: Peculiar People in a Small Town

I had several books on my mind regarding Poland, but for one reason or another I could not get a hold of them. I searched for other options for awhile, and ended up reading House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk. I had no expectations regarding the book, but in the end I guess I did have some, because the title of the book and the cover picture did not prepare me for what was to come.  

I expected it to be a novel, but it is not really a novel, instead it is a series of short stories linked to each other. The book is set in Nowa Ruda, a small town by the Czech border. The villagers have left eastern Poland after the war and are now living in houses left by the German army. These absent Germans are taking up a substantial part of the book. What is not absent is melancholy and the stoic show-no-emotion faces of Polish people.

The stories are peculiar to say at least. The narrator moves in to town and discovers that everyone there has a story to tell (in the end, do not we all?), and her neighbour, Marta the mushroom lady) is one of them. There is also for example an alcoholic man who realizes he shares his body with a bird. Many people die, alcohol is a part of normal life, people are never free from their past, and mundane lives are led day and night.

One of the weirdest parts of this book is the recipes. Even the translator warns the reader not to try them at home. The strengths are the easy to read prose, the understanding of the community in a small town in Poland haunted by its past, and that the stories are linked to each other. However, I found it to have bits and pieces of magical realism, probably a European version of it, so not as Latin American as magical realism can be, but still… Readers who enjoy a bit of fantasy and magical realism in the books they read will most likely enjoy it, if they also prefer to read contemporary literature set in the aftermath of the second world war.

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