A Start in Life by Anita Brookner (1928 – 2016)
“Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature” is one of the boldest opening sentences I have ever read. The main protagonist, Ruth, turns to books for comfort while navigating through many ambiguities in her daily life such as taking care of her elderly ailing mother, failed relationships, finding the meaning to her life. Brookner’s prose is as always profound and illuminating, portraying the inner life of the protagonist in the most exquisite manner. Published in 1981, it is Brookner’s first novel which delights with poetic language, beautifully crafted sentences, and painfully authentic characters.
This is me – Edward Stachura (1937 – 1979) in the Memories by Jakub Beczek
This is one of two books I listed here that is, unfortunately, not available in English. However, I thought I would share it with you so you could learn about one of my favourite writers, Edward Stachura born in France to Polish parents. He was fluent in Polish, Spanish and French. When I read Stachura, I am overtaken by similar emotions to those accompanying me when I read Fernando Pessoa, Albert Camus Emil Cioran or Patrick Modiano. I would highly recommend you to read any book by Edward Stachura that is available in the language you can read. If you are interested, there is a Canadian film “Tout ce que tu possedes” (All that you possess) by Bernard Emond made in 2012 where the main protagonist is a Quebec man translating Edward Stachura’s poetry into French; there are many references to Stachura’s life as well.
The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth (1894 –1939)
I love this book enormously. Published in 1927, it is a short non-fiction book depicting the lives of the Jews, refugees, and displaced peoples in the aftermath of the First World War. He describes how the Westerners looked down on the people who differ in a way they dressed and spoke. Roth makes many references to the rise of right-wing and nationalistic narrative in the Western Europe and people’s attitude towards the “Other”. Almost thirteen years prior to the World War II and the Holocaust, Roth wrote that the plight for the Jews and many displaced people would get worse over the next decades – at that time many writers, intellectuals ignored his worries and warnings including one of his closest friends, and another great writer of that era, Stefan Zweig. This book is also a love letter to the Austro-Hungarian Empire which celebrated the ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and racial diversity. This is a great masterpiece from the 1920s and worth reading in the current times.
Auschwitz and After by Charlotte Delbo (1913 – 1985)
This is a haunting memoir about Charlotte’s time in Auschwitz. She was sent to Auschwitz and then to Ravensbruck for her activities as a member of the French resistance. Her husband, George was executed prior to her being sent to Auschwitz. Charlotte was one of the 230 French non-Jewish women that were transported to Auschwitz on 23 January 1943. Only 49 survived from that convoy. Auschwitz and After is an important book and I would highly recommend you to add it to your bookshelves.
Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays by Benjamin Fondane (1898 – 1944)
Benjamin was a Romanian Jew by birth, but he spent most of his adult life in Paris becoming a French citizen. He wrote his major works in French as he had an enormous love and affection for the French culture and language. Benjamin also spent some time in Buenos Aires where he was close to Victoria Ocampo (Borges’s publisher and close friend). Benjamin perished in Auschwitz in 1944. He is often referred to as the most underrated and forgotten existentialist intellectual of the 20th century. Benjamin Fondane crossed and transcended cultural, disciplinary as well as geographical borders which is perfectly reflected in this collection of essays published by New York Review Books. This book will provide you with a new appreciation for the philosophy, poetry, language, and form. The picture of Benjamin that you can see on the cover was taken in the 1920s by the famous American photographer based in Paris, Man Ray.
Focus on Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941 – 1996) by Katarzyna Surmiak – Domanska
This is a wonderful biography of a great Polish film director, Krzysztof Kieslowski. His major films were Dekalog (1989), The Double Life of Veronique (1991) and Three Colours Trilogy (1993 – 1994). His other film, “A Short Movie about Killing” was instrumental in abolishing death penalty in Poland in the 1980s and is often listed as one of the greatest films of all time. Kieslowski was listed by the British Film Institute as number two in their list of the greatest film directors of modern times. This biography offers insight into the mind of Kieslowski, unbelievably sensitive soul with the capacity for portraying the emotions in the way that no one can come close to. My favourite movie is definitely “The Double Life of Veronique” – if you have not watched it, I would highly recommend it. There is also an older documentary about Kieslowski called ‘I am so-so’ which should be available on YouTube – it gives you a glimpse into his thinking and values. All the films made by Kieslowski are also reflection of the Polish culture and society of those times: 19070s – early 1990s, it is present even in his French-language films.