Józef Hen

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  • photo: Krzysztof Dubiel

(born 1923) is a novelist, essayist, reporter, screenwriter and film director, and one of the most highly regarded authors of the older generation. After the outbreak of the Second World War he escaped to the East, where he fought in the ranks of the Red Army and then the Polish People’s Army. In 1976 he was a signatory to “Letter 101”, protesting against planned changes to the constitution of the Polish People’s Republic. He has gone down in not only Polish literary history, but also cinema, as the screenwriter for films including Cross of Valour or the serial The Life of Kamil Kurant.

Hen’s first publication was in 1947, a book of memoirs called Kiev, Tashkent, Berlin – the History of a Tramp, which is a record of his war experiences. After that his broad-ranging work developed in several directions. He has written books about war (e.g. April) and contemporary novels, in which political and romantic themes are often interwoven, producing some extremely gripping stories (e.g. Toast and Yokohama). He has also written historical novels (Crimen – a Common Tale or Royal Dreams). Autobiographical themes always play an important role in his work, so it is no surprise that he has gone on to write several more memoirs, including I Have No Fear of Sleepless Nights and Nowolipie).

Nowadays Hen is valued above all as a biographer and essayist, author of fascinating monographs on figures from world as well as Polish culture (including I, Michel de Montaigne, The Clown – A Great Husband: the Story of Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński and My Friend the King: the Story of Stanisław August Poniatowski). In these books, the author comes across as an erudite, sophisticated raconteur, an intriguing commentator on history and culture with a tendency to reassess truths that are regarded as indisputable. As Mieczysław Orski said of Hen’s work: “With increasing commitment, passion and revisionary intentions he takes on the historical issues that particularly rankle in the Polish collective consciousness, departing in his judgements and evaluations from the textbook claims and popular stereotypes.”

Bibliography

  • Kijów, Taszkient, Berlin. Dzieje włóczęgi, 1947
  • Notes lejtnanta Nikaszyna, 1952
  • Cud z chlebem, 1956
  • Kwiecień, 1960
  • Toast, 1964
  • Yokohama, 1974
  • Crimen. Opowieść jarmarczna, 1975
  • Ja, Michał z Montaigne, Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1978
  • Królewskie sny, Warszawa: Iskry, 1989
  • Nowolipie, Prospero, 1991
  • Błazen – wielki mąż. Opowieść o Tadeuszu Boyu-Żeleńskim, 1998; Warszawa: W.A.B., 2008
  • Mój przyjaciel król. Opowieść o Stanisławie Auguście Poniatowskim, Warszawa:  Iskry, 2003
  • Bruliony profesora T., Warszawa: PIW,  2006
  • Pingpongista, Warszawa: W.A.B., 2008
  • Dziennik na nowy wiek, Warszawa: W.A.B., 2009
  • Nowolipie. Najpiękniejsze lata, Warszawa: W.A.B., 2011
  • Szóste, najmłodsze i inne opowiadania, Warszawa: W.A.B., 2012
  • Nikt nie woła, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2013
  • Dziennika ciąg dalszy, Kraków, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2014
  • Powrót do bezsennych nocy, Katowice, Wydawnictwo Sonia Draga, 2016

Translations:

Czech:

  • Crimen [Crimen], trans. Helena Stachová, Praha: Odeon, 1981
  • Já Michel de Montaigne [Ja, Michał z Montaigne], trans. Helena Stachová, Praha: Odeon, 1990.

Dutch:

  • De wet de vuist, tłum. Pszisko Jacobs, Haarlem: In de Knipscheer, 1981.

French:

  • Le joueur de ping-pong [Pingpongista], trans. Agnès Wisniewski, Paris: Éditions des Syrtes, 2010

German:

  • Nowolipie, trans. Roswitha Matwin-Buschmann, Leipzig: Reclam, 1996

Italian:

  • L'occhio di Dayan [Oko Dajana], trans. Claudio Madonia, Firenze: Giuntina, 1992

Lithuanian:

  • Mano draugas karalius [Mój przyjaciel król], trans. Vytautas Dekšnys, Wilno: Edukologija, 2012