Ilay Halpern On:
An Evening with the Author by Olga Tokarczuk
For the past twenty years, since the publication of her first novel “The Journey of the Book-People”, Olga Tokarczuk has been considered the most prominent female voice in contemporary Polish literature and an admired author amongst readers and critics. Tokarczuk is a Jungian psychologist, And it reflects in many of her works that seek to penetrate the depths of human psyche through dealing with Mysticism or rather with carnality and physical body as a gateway to one’s inner world (as can be seen in this story, when the heroine imagines a spiritual and physical reunion with the object of her affection, Author Thomas Mann, through his toiletries). Unlike other Polish authors from her generation, Tokarczuk doesn’t tend to deal with her country’s history or the reality that came after communism, and prefers a “nomadic” work that moves quickly and freely between places and time and challenges national identities, religiousness and gender. This is how one should relate to the story “An Evening with the Author”, that consists of two kinds of dialogue – the first, based on gender, provides a female point of view on the character of the author Thomas Mann, through a correspondence with the patriarchal world of his works. The second dialogue, local this time, involve the German past of cities such as Gdańsk (Danzig), Wrocław (Breslau, whose German past was actualized by Tokarczuk in her second novel) and Olsztyn Allenstein- that were annexed to Poland after the Second World War. This phenomenon is fascinating not only because of the Polish authors’ curiosity to discover the history of the places they grew up in after the war, but mainly because of their ability to reinvent their past by the power of their imagination and integrate it with contemporary Polish works. In the same way, Paweł Huelle from Gdansk added his own Danzig chapter to Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” in his book “ Castorp”, or Marek Krajewski
from Wroclaw, that in his detective series portrays the 20’s German city as a dark and decadent place as it has surly never been.
It is important to mention, for those who are wondering, that Thomas Mann has never laid foot in Allenstein… The story I chose to translate is taken from the quite eclectic short story collection called “Playing on Many Drums”. It seems this is a title that loyally represents Tokarczuk’s range of work, while just recently her new novel that revolves around the Jewish false prophet Jacob Frank was published. My hope is that the translation of this story will bring forward additional translations from this fine author.