Warsaw holds a permanent spot in classic Polish literature. One of the most often described periods is, among others, the Second World War. Many crime stories and retro-style books are set in this city, which also invariably inspires contemporary authors.
It is impossible to think about Warsaw only in the context of the present or plans for the future. Events related to the history of Poland, especially the Second World War and the Warsaw Uprising, are too close to Polish hearts. So much has happened here! The city bears many scars, preserves the memory of unimaginable tragedies, has witnessed courageous acts and heroic uprisings, and although it was almost decimated, it emerged from the ashes. No wonder that the capital city constantly inspires artists, directors and writers.
Let’s talk about old Warsaw
“Gawędy o Warszawie” (Tales of Warsaw) by Franciszek Galiński was first published in 1937. The book delighted critics, and was highly recommended by Julian Tuwim himself! The latest edition is from 2013. The stories and anecdotes presented in the book are written in an effortless and light style. They are a valuable and interesting source of knowledge about the bygone Warsaw.
You can find there a lot of interesting anecdotes and stories about the everyday life of former citizens of Warsaw, their entertainment, holidays and funerals. It perfectly illustrates the varied architecture and infrastructure spots of the old city. This is complemented by engravings, photos and reprints of historical plans of Warsaw, which enrich this extraordinary story.
The face of war
Much has been written about Warsaw during the Second World War. Everyone knows the memoirs written by Władysław Szpilman. The tragic events described in “The Pianist” are related to the German occupation of the capital. Being held in the ghetto, loosing the loved ones, hiding, overwhelming loneliness and hunger, which the author was constantly suffering from, make up painfully true testimony of those times.
The image of war presented in the book allows looking at it not from the point of view of skirmishes or heroic uprisings, but through the eyes of an ordinary, hounded man, whose greatest desire is to return to a normal, peaceful life. The main character is constantly plunged into hopelessness, and yet sometimes help comes from where he would least expect it. The autobiography became a bestseller, and has been translated into 38 languages. It also got a great screen adaptation directed by Roman Polański.
Poor man from Marymont
Marek Hłaska’s literary debut “Wilk” (Wolf) had to wait in a drawer for over 60 years before it finally reached readers in 2015. It describes the fate of young Rysiek Lewandowski who grew up in the interwar period. The interesting plot is also a colourful and convincing description of poor Warsaw.
The protagonist lives in a poor excluded district, and his neighbours are mainly the unemployed and thieves. He lives in squalor day after day. He dreams of a better life, but it is an undefined desire with no path leading to its fulfilment. He sneaks through life like the eponymous wolf, with no hope of changing his fate.
During the criminal PRL
The plot of “Zły” (Evil One) by Leopold Tyrmand is set in the early 1950s. It is a legendary book. The title character is almost like a contemporary Robin Hood, who defends the weak and declares war on the Warsaw underworld. His activities are not understood by the militia, which is trying to catch the Evil One at all costs. The characters often move around, thanks to which you have the opportunity to get to know many
places and communities in Warsaw – touts, traders, journalists and workers. The book combines many issues, and the whole story is written in an extremely elaborate language. “Zły” is a great picture of People’s Poland depicted on over 600 pages. On the opening page of the book, the author placed a dedication: “To my home town – Warsaw”.
City of the 21st century
Finally, for a change, we propose a book about a thoroughly contemporary Warsaw. “Mówi Warszawa” (Warsaw Speaks) is an extensive collection of short stories edited by Marek Kochan. These are 21 portraits of the city divided into three parts of the book: love, farewells and returns, and revolutions. The authors include: Wojciech Albiński, Olga Berezyna, Sylwia Chutnik, Jacek Dehnel, Izabela Filipiak, Marek Kochan, Aleksander Kościów, Milena Laur, Antoni Libera, Kaja Malanowska,
Marek Nowakowski, Piotr Paziński, Tomasz Piątek, Monika Powalisz, Monika Rakusa, Sylwia Siedlecka, Bohdan Sławiński, Jerzy Sosnowski, Juliusz Strachota, Piotr Wojciechowski and Krzysztof Varga. The authors present different styles, generations and views. Their stories are very diverse, refer to the past, present and future, and show various points of view. However, they have one common theme: Warsaw. The content of the book has been enriched with illustrations, photographs, photomontages and panoramas of the city. Lovers of Warsaw will be delighted.
“Barefoot but with spurs”
The very title of Stanisław Grzesiuk’s book suggests that it is a story with humour. Although it is the second part of the autobiographical trilogy, created after the famous ” Pięć lat kacetu” (Five Years of Quod), it depicts his earlier years – the author’s youth in pre-war times. Grzesiuk spent it in a poor district, Czerniaków, called by the inhabitants “Dół” (The Pit). The story of the slyboots from Warsaw is described in light, simple language with elements of dialect.
The author present stories starting from his school years to adulthood, not omitting various entertainments and dangerous adventures, as well as time spent with the gang. The plot of the last chapters is set during the Second World War. The book is an excellent picture of pre-war life in the suburbs of Warsaw, which although grey, are depicted in such a funny and colourful way that we immediately feel the atmosphere of those times.