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NINE by Andrzej Stasiuk


by Andrzej Stasiuk & translated by Bill Johnston

Pub Date: May 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-15-101064-1
Publisher: Harcourt

A kaleidoscopic view of Warsaw in transition and in chaos, following the collapse of Communism, forms the core of this 1999 novel from the Polish author (Tales of Galicia, 2003, etc.).

Grafted onto it is a melodramatic tale of flight and pursuit, which begins focused on Pawel, a failed businessman who falls into debt and goes “on the run” after he awakens one morning to find his apartment trashed, and realizes loan sharks are after him. As Pawel takes to the dingy, snow-clogged streets, the novel becomes a constantly shifting confusion of present action and flashbacks to various times in his childhood and less compromised adulthood, triggered by chance meetings, visits to familiar scenes and recurring dreams and waking fantasies. We meet his friend Bolek, a high-living drug-dealer with deep pockets, but without any particular concern about Pawel’s plight; then Pawel’s indigent buddy Jacek, an addict who drifts along in a passive détente with his several demons; the women in (or on the margins of) all three men’s lives—and numerous other city dwellers whose relation to the aforementioned characters and to the novel’s plot is sometimes left unexplained, sometimes clarified only many pages later. As we observe Pawel “gradually losing his fear, because he was losing hope,” refractions of his personal history and his destiny are located in the figures and viewpoints of a woman neighbor (Zosia) who watched Pawel grow up, Bolek’s henchman “Iron Man” (likewise enmeshed in dangerous pursuits), the menacing “blond man” who appears to be stalking Pawel, even Bolek’s disoriented and paranoid guard dog Sheikh.

The technique is masterly, and the carefully calibrated atmosphere of dread and threat beautifully sustained. But the effect is that of claustrophobic redundancy.