21:37 BY Mariusz Czubaj


21:37 By Mariusz Czubaj

Polish crime fiction

Translator Anne Hyde

Original title 21:37

Source – review Copy

I’ve not read as many Polish crime book as I would like over the Years ,this is the latest to my list and from one of my favourite new Publishers Stork books .Mariusz Czubaj  he is a professor of cultural anthropology in Warsaw and is also on the editorial panel  of the quarterly Popular culture a magazine following trends in popular culture around the world .21:37 is his first book to be translated to English .,in Poland it won the High calibre prize for the best Polish crime novel .Here is a link to Mariusz’s ten favourite crime novels also an interview

 He was a profiler, the best in the country ,a specialist marking out unknown criminal offenders .A lonely hunter tracking savage ,unique types such as serial killer ,rapists or pyromaniacs .And he was a hunter barely tolerated by the police regulars .

He finally understood it would never change when he turned forty .He would never find his place .At work they saw him as a weirdo and an outsider ,a specialist in out-of-this-world ,imagined theories ,which ,by sheer luck ,could be useful in capturing murders of different sorts .

A complex man is our Rudolf Heinz

Well THE books title follows a discovery two bodies of naked men have been found with numbers written on them on has 21 on one and 37 on the other turn up near the olmpic ground in Warsaw  .This case lands at the feet of the main character of the book the guitar playing brown belt karate fighter Rudolf Heinz ,he is a late middle age criminal profiler .Now it happens these two numbers are the exact time that Pope had died is this a clue or a red herring .This leads Rudolf to a conflict with high-ranking officers and church figures as he searches for the killer but also to try to keep his own neck of the line .Will the man from upper Silesia  break the case ? Also why were there Pink triangles on the bodies as well as the numbers ? (short than my usual book description but sometimes feel I give too much away and this is one you need to read !)

There are many psycho around me ,Heinz thought half an hour later,lying in the darkness with earphones in his ears .

He was listening to john lee hooker singing about the flood in Tupelo .Yet again it took a long time to fall asleep .

One of the numerous references to music .

For me a crime book to appeal to me as a reader , it is the man Character(policeman ,profiler or detective ) I have to connect with and Rudolf Heinz is one detective I did really connect with ,he loves Rock music and the references litter through the book to music and food remind me of other detective series I have enjoyed ,at times the nearest figure from Crime fiction I’ve read I was Rankin’s rebus ,Because Heinz also likes a drink  , the  frequent references to music  as well  (lot of Rankin’s book titles are song references ). He is a similar age to Rebus in the books from  that series I loved .But this book is Polish at its heart the main clues seem to bring  connect to the church and the seminar .It appears this is the first in a couple of book with Rudolf Heinz .I hope we get to follow Heinz and see how he moves on from here .Anna Hyde did a good job on the translation which kept the pace going .Again I loved another polish crime writer surely not be long before Polish crime is the new Nordic noir !

Have you a favourite crime writer in Translation ?

Polish Literature Month June 2013



I ve been planning this for last six months since reading Witold Gombrowicz Diaries and deciding that A. I needed to read more Polish literature B. we all need to maybe know a bit more about this hidden gem of European literature and C. There has been some great books from Poland published in the last year or two .


So what is coming up ,well next week I have a give-away for ten books that has been kindly offered by Joanne at Stork press 5 of Madame Mephisto by Am Bakalar ,which was the first book written by a female writer from Poland in English and 5 of their novel Illegal Liaisons by Grazyna Piebanek ,Also Joanne has written me a piece on publishing Polish literature in English .I’ve also a piece from Magda who is the head of Polish Literature at the Polish Cultural Institution . I’m also contacting a number of translators for suggestions of books and Translations they have made from Polish .I hope to have a great list of books for every one to read between now and June .Here is my fist suggestion on I will be reading as well –

stone upon stone

Stone Upon Stone by Wieslaw Mysliwski 

 A badge – I have been working on a badge for Polish literature month but haven’t quite done one I’m happy with so hope to have one in a couple of weeks when I ve work a bit more on it .So every one can have one for post and sidebars in time .

Twitter – I will be using a hashtag for the month and all posts it will be #plm13 ,so if everyone could use it before and during the month it will make finding post much easier .

polish-food from Love warsaw,co,uk

Cooking – I will during the month be cooking a traditional Polish dish ,I will post a the start of the month A list of ingredients then in the last week be doing a cook along via twitter and posting the results here on the blog .

Film – I will be choosing a film to watch during the month ,I ve not quite decide which but will be doing a post on Polish cinema and the choice of Film for everyone to watch .


Drink – I will also be trying some polish Beers and spirits to do a post on what to drink .

As you see I want June to be a month we all get Polish .Its important I feel as a recent report showed Polish is now the UK’s second Language .But if you ask the average reader to name a Polish writer they may just mention one but not many more so lets all get to know Polish literature better .

Diary by Witold Gombrowicz

Diary by Witold Gombrowicz

Translated by Lillian Vallee

Polish non fiction


Witold Gombrowicz was an ex pat Polish writer ,when he got stuck in Argentina  at the out break of world war two .He had already  written a number of books back in Poland  before he went to Argentina ,the most well-known been Ferdydurke a novel about a thirty year old writer being haunted by his former tutor  his debut which from his own words was maybe his best book .This set the theme for most of Gombrowicz writing life deep psychological themes and questioning of Polish society and culture .Any way to the book in question which is his  Diary and is what it says on the cover it is Gombrowicz diary for the years 1953 til his death in 1969 ,these entries were published in the polish Magazine Kulutra .Most of the time in Argentina although near the end of his life Gombrowicz did return to europe to live .











Josefa Radzyminska has magnanimously provide me with a dozen or so issues of Widomosci and Zycie (life and the literary news )

The opening of the diary and a rather witty start .


Now from its opening you can see both Gombrowicz deepness of thought  and his humour which is quite dry  at times .So this for the   diary  it is hard to pin down it isn’t really a diary in the straightforward sense  as such ,No it is  so much more it is the outpouring of a great writer ,no I’ll go further  a great mind .Granted  at times you disagree with him at times on some of his views  ,he has little time for Proust ,he also had various views good and bad on his fellow countrymen most of which he does go into depth with over the course of this book .WE also so see the many trends of the time things such as  , existentialism , Marxism , phenomenology . structuralism .This marks Gombrowicz as a great Polemic writer he does have strong views on most things he discusses in the book ,these views also set what made him such a great fiction writer as his insight into so many things seemed well thought out and in-depth .

The flaws of Proust’s book are enormous and innumerable -a gold mine of defects .His duel with time ,based on an exaggerated ,naive faith in the power of art -this is the professional mysticism of a crazed aesthete and artist .His psychological analyses could drag out into infinity ,for they are only embroidering on observations -they are not exploratory .

He was not a real Proust fan it seems .

Then at other times you marvel at Gombrowicz ability to recount the writers of his day and also his looking in at the polish literature scene from the outside ,this is definitely one of those books you need a notebook for the names of writers you are unaware of (although this said most of the ones I have looked up seem to be out of print in English a great shame ) also one of those books I can see myself returning over the coming years for quotes and insights into writers he has mentioned or encountered . I felt  via this book you get a real sense of polish literature up to the late sixties .Then we also  get his insight into Poland as a place and culture  there isn’t the wistful looking back and yearning you expect of an exile no Gombrowicz opens his homeland up and pulls it to piece bit by bit ,so you see how it became the place it was when he left and since he left .Then we see the life of an exile working in a bank ,mundane at times but his slow move into the lit society of ex pats and Argentinians ,also his late night meeting with younger guys .Gombrowicz manages to catch what it is to be an intellectual but without that feeling of him showing it off to you as a reader ,you feel he knew this or else he wouldn’t have  had a successful column in   Kultura for ten plus years .

Now strange enough  John Self happen to mention he had been reading Gombrowicz novel because Keith Ridgway had mention him as a writer to read ,but I had already read the diary’s before he mention this  in his post ,strange we both come at a great writer via different routes ,well I had read Ferdydurke by chance many, many  years ago and had forgotten about him as a writer til I saw a Yale press tweet about the diaries coming out  (the book I read had a funky graffiti style cover and was published in the sixties I mainly borrowed it from library due to the cover rather than the writer , but Yale have just put out a new edition ) .I must admit this is maybe given me a feeling for diaries as a form of writing I need to read more off so suggestions welcome (I know of Woolf’s thou ).I would say this is a book that any lover of writing and writers would love it is a great insight into a writers mind .

Have you a favourite Polish writer ?

Madame Mephisto by A M Bakalar

Madame Mephisto by A M Bakalar

Polish fiction / British polish fiction

A M Bakalar or Asia Monika Bakalar was born and raised in Poland ,spend summers in a small town .She has studied English at university , worked as an English to polish translator  .Since  2004 she has lived in the UK  after a number of years in the US and Germany ,this is here début Novel that she has written in her second language English .

Madame Mephisto is the story of Magda ,who is Magda  ? Well she is a Pole that came to Britain ,like many of her fellow country folk ,after Poland joined the EU to find a new future in Britain .Her story is a story that could happen to any one of them  .Especially as we all take wrong turns .So Magda arrives in the UK starts and finds herself drawn into a world of importing drugs from abroad .As she does this she finds she actually is rather good at it and becomes more and more involved and climbs the ladder in the drug underworld .Then a family incident draws her back to her homeland and maybe some how facing who she has become .

“There was a complaint against you” Jantjes told me two weeks later at his place .He was my first link to the cannabis business I was  yet to establish in London .

I took a spliff from his hands “it’s good”

“Swazi gold ”

Magda has her first taste of drugs in London

Magda as the lead character is a prefect example of the good girl gone bad ,some one who due to one turn in their life has gone down the wrong path in life rather like the title suggest Madame Mephisto ,even thou the devil isn’t the Magda is a bit like Faust that has sold here life to the devil .Like the polish folklore character Pan Twardowski ,Has Magda sold her self to gain greater power in the drug trade .Is the trip back home a glimpse into the past ,who is Magda the girl who came to England or the girl who is leaving England ? Bakalar talks about the masks people wear in an interview about the book .(it is worth checking stork press you tube feed they have a great collection of videos with the writer )

Now as you see at the top I had trouble placing this I m divide is this a great piece of polish literature that has been written in English  the great polish writer Witold Gombrowicz often talked about in his diaries about how  the best Polish fiction was written outside Poland in the 20th century  by Poles in exile  .But part of me thinks it maybe the  first in a new line of literature to be written in English by Polish people , rather like the windrush literature from the likes of Sam Selvon did in the fifties with his book The lonely Londoners, is A M Bakalar here in turn  giving rise to a new line of fiction like windrush is this a book that in ten years time maybe seen as a trailblazer  .The voice of Magda even thou written in English has a very polish feel to it ,I do wonder if this is why some publisher weren’t so keen on this book .As for me it gives it a real fee,l Bakalar said her choice to write in english was because her Polish writing had been seen as tinged by English due to her extensive work translating  and I may say the opposite is true her writing in English has a polish feel with out the reader getting bogged down in polish words .Madame Mephisto is one of the first books from a new publisher called stork press 

Do you have a favourite book written by a writer in a second language ?

Rondo by Kazimierz Brandys

Rondo by Kazimierz Brandys

Polish fiction

Translated by Jaroslaw Anders

Kazimierz Brandys was a polish writer ,he is little known but a multiple prize winner and also a member of the order of fine arts in France .He was a graduate in law and made his writing debut in 1935 .his first novel published in 1946 .This considered one of his best was published in 1982 at that time he live in france where he lived until his death in 2000.

So rondo what is it well it is a man life the man in question is called Tom ,it is his story he has written after reading an account of the RONDO organisation a resistance movement in Poland written by a professor Janota  in a historic magazine  .Tom  was a member of , but the question as the books unwinds is what is real and what is false in this account of Rondo and toms retelling of his remembrance of events  ? .Tom past and present mix as we jump from the now of Warsaw in the 70’s a city just starting to become wealthy and changing .Then to the past of pre war and wartime Warsaw .So how did he get involved with the RONDO (Tom called it after a Chopin piece ) well this is how it started as he imagined it he was dating a girl Tola he made it up to impress her (haven’t we all bent the truth a little to impress a girl /boy ) but as the war progresses his peers start to build the imagine resistance movement into a real one because of the own selfish motives and  thus fiction becomes fact .So tom is he the illegitimate son of a famous polish pre war leader ?  This book very much in the allegorical vein of literature a display  of what may have happen if person x had done this and persons a ,b and c had joined in rather than a truthful account of events .Then there is Tola an almost saintly women in Tom’s eye ,he is one of these men brought up to put the women in his life  on the pedestal no matter what they do to them  .

Professor W.Janota claims that (1) Rondo was founded in 1942 ;(2) it was established by people smuggled secretly from London;(3) its activities included extensive infiltration of the Wehrmacht and SS circles as well as surveillance of German strategic objectives ..

Tom read this and through that find out what happen for real or maybe for real .

So this is a mix of spy ,romance ,surreal ,memoir and  allegory  fiction ,all in one package ,I suppose the nearest book in English maybe  is William Boyd’s Any human heart their is something of  similar in Logan and Tom ,Logan is a man  who ends up caught up in major events by accident rather like Tom  has in Rondo and also Logan maybe extends the truth at times like Tom as well  .But in the wider sense outside fiction ,he is a Walter Mitty  the film character carried into a wider story of the second world war in Poland ,also rather like Clifton James the man who played a double of Monty to fool the Germans in the war and he played himself in the film  where he was portrayed as a man who got carried along by events after he initially played Monty for a joke in a stage show ,there is a similar feel in Toms story here he started of with a small idea and then  got carried along into a bigger idea .I loved this books take one world war two in Poland ,Tom was a great character to follow  through these events .The book is published by Europa editions and is part of there first group of books to be published in the UK .

where the devil can’t go by Anya Lipska

Anya Lipska is a journalist and lives in london this is her debut novel.She is married to a pole .

I like the concept of this book when I received a e-mail from its publicist Louise ,I often wander around my local supermarket which now has a section devoted to polish food and we also have a polish deli ,so a book set in the uk in the polish community seemed like a really interesting book to me .The book’s title is part of an old polish proverb about a women being often the cause of trouble ,I asked Anya on twitter about this and she said it fitted the main character Janusz Kiszka to  tee .He is an older chap a figure-head in the community ,The sort of  come to guy the man who knows everyone and every thing so when he is asked to find a missing young polish  girl by a priest ,this one event leads him to his own past as he returns to his native Poland and faces his own ghosts ,a dead body or two , a perky female police detective Natalie Kershaw ,she  is young and full of get up and go .She is a a new young detective  in what feels like a very male police force world and has  Janusz in her sights as he keeps cropping up in the case of a girl found by the river Thames .All this has repercussions in Poland in the upper reaches of Polish politics .

She followed him as he moved up the side of the bed .He bent over the girl .”No obvious injuries” he said eyes flickering impassively over the splayed body .

Kershaw notice a fuzz of underarm stubble beneath the girls out flung left arm – a detail so personnel it made her feel uncomfortably like a voyeur .

A body in a hotel room as Kershaw sorts this case .

I like my crime novels that break the mould or have well crafted characters and this book seems to have achieved both ,the narrative stream is told in alternating chapters by Janusz and then Kershaw this is clever as you see two pictures  of what is happening ,but then over time these picture merge and the true course of events becomes clear to the reader .The other strength in this book is Janusz he is like a fish out of water a pole in the uk ,a man with secrets ,but also not the most politically correct guy he is a bit of a misogynist ,he has a girlfriend but their relationship is in limbo a bit ,the way he talked and dealt with women took me back to the noir of the thrities and  forties ,he is like a modern Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe .Also you find out how he end up in the UK and also a bit about Poland in the Eighties and life under the communist state .I also loved the fact that early on I had to google as they described eating various Polish dishes ,so next time I m in the supermarket I may know what are on the shelves .So if you want a page turning winter crime novel that has something a bit different about it this may be the book for you .

Here is a interview with writer 

and Anya Lipska site

This is an e book her is the link to it on amazon 

May 2022


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