2011 Northern California Book Awards - Translation/Fiction - Winner
NCBR review of A Thousand Peaceful Cities by
Jerzy Pilch, translation by David Frick, from Polish
Open Letter Books
Jerzy Pilch, the writer Czeslaw Milosz called "the hope of young Polish prose," is renowned in Poland as a satirical journalist and novelist, winning Poland's most prestigious literary award after four nominations. Blurring the lines between history and absurdist fiction, Pilch adopts the voice of Jerzyk ("little Jerzy") who lives in Wisla (Pilch's hometown) during the latter days of the Polish post-Stalinist "thaw." During one particularly drunken afternoon, Jerzyk's father (a former postal administrator) and closest friend Mr Traba (a retired clergyman and exuberant drunk) decide to lend their lives some meaning by ridding the world of a political tyrant. They settle on the de facto Polish head of state as their victim (since assassinating Mao Zedong would be complicated), a Chinese crossbow as their weapon of choice, and young Jerzyk as their reluctant co-conspirator. A Thousand Peaceful Cities offers numerous opportunities for digressions on everything from theology to the art of drinking to the meaning of art to the constraints of life under a dictatorship, but above all Pilch is concerned with the political apathy of his contemporaries who, safe and subservient in their "peaceful cities," neglected the aims of ideological freedom and political independence. Translator David Frick, a Polish literature scholar, brings Pilch's romp, with the Rabelaisian character of Mr. Traba at its center, into language at once outrageous and convincing. Frick manages to sustain the fevered pitch of Mr. Traba's ravings and balance it with the intelligent but dreamily adolescent voice of the narrator to create an impressive comic novel in English.
About the NCBR: NCBR/Northern California Book Reviewers, a volunteer group of book reviewers, book review editors, and others who read passionately and write about reading, have met regularly since 1981 to celebrate books by presenting annual book awards to northern California authors. See the 2011 NCBA page under PF Programs for the complete list of finalists and winners.