Krzysztof Varga

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  • photo by Krzysztof Dubiel / Instytut Książki

(born in 1968) is a writer and journalist who has collaborated continuously with Gazeta Wyborcza since the mid-1990s. He made his literary debut with a short story collection titled The Drunken Angel at the Crossroads [Pijany anioł na skrzyżowaniu ulic] (1993), but in authorized biographies he invariably states that his true literary entrance came three years later with the novel Boys Don’t Cry [Chłopaki nie płaczą]. The title of this book is the Polish translation of the title of a hit by the British music group The Cure: ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. And this is not accidental – Varga often makes reference to pop culture. Boys Don’t Cry is about a group of friends – pleasant Warsaw yuppies. Their days – aside from work – are filled with drinking alcohol, taking light recreational drugs and picking up attractive girls. The protagonists – although they’re barely pushing thirty – spend a lot of time reflecting on the passage of time, physical decline and inevitable death. And here, also, one can’t speak of chance because Varga is undoubtedly the greatest hypochondriac of contemporary Polish literature. Motifs of the ‘deterioration of the body’, ageing and the transience of existence appear in all of his books, including the novel Mortality [Śmiertelność] and a volume of prose titled 45 Ideas for a Novel: B-Sides of Singles, 1992-1996 [45 pomysłów na powieść. Strony B singli – 1992-1996] (both published in 1998).

Varga’s second novel was Bildungsroman (1997), a work in which he returns to his Hungarian roots (the writer is half-Hungarian). The action of this novel is set in Budapest and Warsaw, and perhaps the most important character in this narrative is the father of Kristóf (the Hungarian version of the name Christopher), who attempts to reflectively sum up his own life story. Varga’s slim book Tequila (2001) gained a great deal of acclaim. It contains a tragi-comic monologue by a narrator-protagonist who, while carrying the coffin of his friend who was also the drummer in a band in which he is the lead singer, reflects on friendship, music, the contemporary world and – as usual in Varga’s books – the passage of time and death.

Varga’s subsequent novels are even more impressive. Karolina (2002) is an intriguing and disturbing novel in which the narrator searches in his memory, imagination and in the space all around him for a certain woman named Karolina. Sometimes funny and sentimental, occasionally self-mocking, he is really looking for himself, reflecting on his own life and analysing his own experiences. Terrazzo Tombstone [Nagrobek z lasryko] (2007) is even more interestingly conceived, with action set in about the year 2070. The narrator of this novel gives a monologue shortly before committing suicide in which he attempts to sum up the experiences of three unhappy generations (his grandparents, his mother and him). In this novel and the two following ones (Independence Avenue [Aleja Niepodległości], 2010; Sawdust [Trociny], 2012), Varga allows washed-up failures to speak; he places them at critical moments, almost literally on the edge. In Independence Avenue, it’s Krystian Apostata, an unfulfilled avant-garde painter who mourns his miserable fate and contrasts his own life story with the biography of an old school friend who is a dancer and celebrity, a successful person – of course, according to present-day notions of media fame. In turn, in Sawdust there’s a shocking monologue by fifty-year-old Piotr Augustyn, a sales representative working for a Warsaw-based corporation. This character doesn’t like anybody, even himself; his life is marked by failure, disappointment and humiliation. This misanthropic and sociopathic monologue is linked – like in all of Varga’s work – to specific circumstances: Augustyn murders a work colleague, guided solely by deviant antipathy. The gallery of repulsive characters is completed, for the time being, by Stefan Kołtun – a severely alcoholic ‘niche songwriter without a single hit on the radio’ (Total Mess [Masakra], 2015). Of course, washed-up failures confessing their defeats and villainous deeds do not appear on these pages because they are interesting characters. Each time, Varga addresses more universal issues – he tracks social transformations, attempts to observe changing fashions and affectations, and, above all, wants to talk about contemporary Poland and the well-being of the Polish people.

His two volumes of essays about Hungary were very well received. They explore the history and culture of Hungary, the Hungarian mentality connected with cuisine (which explains the surprising title), and especially the spirit of independence and uniqueness of Hungarians. Because of Varga’s ancestry and family connections, he guides the reader through Hungarian reality with vast expertise and feeling, but he doesn’t relinquish that which – in the most general understanding – defines his writing: a penchant for tragi-comic perspectives, melancholy reflections and flirtation with pessimism.

Bibliography

  • Pijany anioł na skrzyżowaniu ulic, Warszawa: Staromiejski Dom Kultury, 1993.
  • Chłopaki nie płaczą, Warszawa: Lampa i Iskra Boża, 1996.
  • Bildungsroman, Kraków: Zebra, 1997.
  • Śmiertelność, Czarne: Wyd. Czarne, 1998.
  • Tequila, Warszawa-Wołowiec: Czarna Lampa, 2001.
  • Karolina, Wołowiec: Czarne, 2002.
  • Nagrobek z lastryko, Wołowiec: Czarne, 2007.
  • Gulasz z turula, Wołowiec: Czarne, 2008
  • Aleja Niepodległości, Wołowiec: Czarne, 2010
  • Trociny, Wołowiec: Czarne, 2012
  • Czardasz z mangalicą, Wołowiec: Czarne, 2014
  • Masakra, Warszawa: Wielka Litera, 2015
  • Setka, Warszawa: Wielka Litera, 2016
  • Langosz w jurcie, Wołowiec: Czarne, 2016

Translations:

Bulgarian:

  • Nadgrobna mozaika [Nagrobek z lastryko], trans. Dilaina Diencziewa, Sofia: Paradoks, 2011
  • Gulasz s turul [Gulasz z Turula], trans. Milena Milewa, Sofja: Paradox, 2013

Croatian:

  • Tequila, trans. Ivana Puškarić, Zagrzeb: Meandar Media, 2008

Czech:

  • Guláš z turula [Gulasz z turula], trans. Pavel Peč, Praga: Dokořán, 2010
  • Piliny [Trociny], trans. Jan Faber, Ostrava: Protimluv, 2015

Hungarian:

  • Tequila [Tequila], trans. Keresztes Gaspar, Poligraf, 2008
  • Turulporkolt [Gulasz z turula], trans. Hermann Péter, Budapest: Európa, 2009
  • Műmárvány síremlék [Nagrobek z lastryko], trans. Lajos Pálfalvi, Budapest: Európa, 2011

Italian:

  • Viali dell’Indipendenza [Aleja Niepodległości], trans. Leonardo Masi, Florencja: Barbès Editore, 2012

Macedonian:

  • Byliewarot na niezawisnosta [Aleja niepodległości], trans. Milica Mirkulowska, Skopje: Antolog, 2013

Serbian:

  • Tekila [Tequila], trans. Zoran Derić, Vega Media, 2005
  • Gulaš od turul ptice [Gulasz z Turula], trans. Milica Markić, Belgrad: Kornet, 2012
  • Trunje [Trociny], trans. Milica Markić, Belgrad: Plato books, 2013
  • Aleja nezavisnosti [Aleja Niepodległości], trans.. Milica Markić, Belgrad: Kornet, 2015

Slovak:

  • Guláš z Turula [Gulasz z Turula], trans. Jozef Marušiak, Bratysława: Kalligram, 2010