Literary roundup: Pre-war Warsaw and Russian dystopias

Literary roundup: Pre-war Warsaw and Russian dystopias

The first English translation of a book by Polish-Jewish author Józef Hen will be published later this month, according to the Polish Book Institute’s website. Nowolipie Street is a 1991 memoir of growing up in the lost world of Jewish Warsaw in the 1920s and 30s, up until the German occupation caused Hen to escape the country to The Soviet Union (though his father, a brother and a sister were killed). Author of Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder gives the book very high praise.

Speaking of World War II in Poland, I will soon post a review of the new edition of Jan Karski’s Story of a Secret State, which tells of his life in the Polish resistance and his witnessing the Holocaust and futile attempts to warn world leaders of what was going on. (I forgot to mention that I’ll also have a review of Nowolipie Street up soon).

Russian dystopias

At Russia Beyond the Headlines, Phoebe Taplin looks at the abundance of dystopian novels coming out of Russia recently, writing: “Settings range from feudal barbarism to hi-tech nightmare with everything in between. Books are banned and mutant humans live in primitive huts, eating mice. The secret police rape and burn all day and relax with drug-fuelled orgies. People are continually reincarnated, wear mirror masks, and copulate or die en masse at festivals. Warring factions survive in the tunnels of the disused subway.”


And if that description doesn’t make you want to read the article and some, if not all, of the books then look around and make sure you aren’t already living in a dystopia.

Photo – The building of Warsaw’s former Jewish Council during or after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by photographer involved in Jürgen Stroop’s report to Heinrich Himmler.

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8 Comments on “Literary roundup: Pre-war Warsaw and Russian dystopias”

  1. 04/05/2012 at 3:37 pm #

    good to hear about the English translation of Hen’s book 🙂 By the way – the photo of the Judenrat building was made after the war > the ruins were standing till the beginning of the 60-ties of 20th cent.
    Regards, Ewa

    • 04/05/2012 at 3:48 pm #

      Thanks Ewa, but if the photo was made by Jurgen Stroop for a report to Himmler (as wikimedia says) it would have to be from during the war, and it says the Stroop report was made in 1943. Thanks again, Michael

      • 04/05/2012 at 4:02 pm #

        Yes, you are right. Then it was made in April – May 1943, during the Uprising. The 3 original copies of Stroop Report survived – one of them is kept in Poland. It was recently published – I have checked it out, this photograph was the first one in the set (in the copy which is now in Poland, the 2 others had some different photographs, so I am note sure if this one was also attached to them). Best, Ewa

      • 04/05/2012 at 4:47 pm #

        Thanks so much Ewa. I started to look up the report online and saw a lot of links to the crazies saying the report was faked to make it look like the Holocaust was real. It was depressing. Anyway, on wikimedia they have a whole category of the reports photos.
        Best, Michael

  2. 04/05/2012 at 5:24 pm #

    those who deny it should come to Warsaw and talk to the survivers – i.e. the lady, who – as a young girl – was hiding in the underground bunker in the Warsaw ghetto during the uprising and survived as some had found the way out through the sewers….. anyway, all the best, Ewa

    • 04/05/2012 at 6:01 pm #

      I agree 100% though I don’t suppose those kind of people travel much in general.
      Have a good weekend, Michael

  3. paulstoutonghi
    10/05/2012 at 7:41 pm #

    This looks great. I preordered Living Souls on Amazon based on the product description, alone. The Russian writers, in my experience — and this is a horrendous generalization — do well with dystopia.

    I’ve always thought that Zamyatin’s ‘We’ gets the short shrift as far as dystopian novels are concerned — especially considering by how many years his book predated both Huxley and Orwell.

    • 10/05/2012 at 9:33 pm #

      I agree about Russian dystopias. There was a good article about the recent ones in the NYRB by Keith Gessen. And it’s absolutely true about ‘We,’ which not only was first but is the only one of the three (Orwell, Huxley) that is funny. It’s one thing to show a humorless nightmare world but to do it humorlessly like I think Orwell did is a bad choice. Plus We had a strange publishing history, first coming out in English in NYC, then in Russian and Czech in Prague. I can’t remember when it first was available in Russia, but certainly late enough to keep him from being given his rightful place in Russian lit history.

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