Sylwia Chutnik

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  • ©Krzysztof Dubiel/Instytut Książki

(born 1979) is a novelist and city guide. She graduated in cultural and gender studies at Warsaw University. She is also a charity worker and chairperson of the MaMa Foundation which aims to improve the situation of mothers in Poland. She won the “Polityka Passport” prize for 2008.

Her first novel was Pocket Atlas of Women, published in 2008. It tells the stories of four people who live in a Warsaw tenement house: a young woman from the edge of society; a man of indeterminate sexual identity; a venerable old woman who took part in the Warsaw Uprising; and a rebellious teenage girl. In this novel their stories are interwoven with sociological descriptions of female groups in their natural environments (a market, a doctor’s waiting room, a housing estate etc.). The end result is an original guidebook to a Warsaw one would seek in vain in a conventional tourist guide; it is an uncompromising, extremely feminist study of the condition of Warsaw’s poorest citizens, those most socially marginalised.

In her next novel, entitled Diddums (2010), realism gives way to surrealism and the grotesque. However, a different style does not weaken Chutnik’s critical intentions. This time she sets her story in the Warsaw suburb of Gołąbki, where a 16-year-old girl lives with her mother. Born disabled, she is incapable of an independent life. Her handicaps – she has no limbs, suffers from hydrocephaly and cannot speak – mean that she has no way of protesting against the symbolic “functions” or roles assigned to her: as a punishment for her forebears’ wartime sins, or as a holy figure, a scapegoat-corpse. The monstrous child acts as a catalyst for violence, and all manner of Polish vices are reflected in her “kaleidoscope” eyes. The drastic images created by Chutnik might prompt a reaction of protest, but they should be put into ironical quotation marks. This is suggested by the language of the novel in particular, which is highly colloquial and seemingly inappropriate for the tough subject matter.


In 2011 Chutnik, who is a city guide, published an unconventional guidebook to Warsaw, entitled Women’s Warsaw. In it she suggests the routes for tours of some of Warsaw’s most interesting districts, but above all she offers a walk about a city that conceals the histories of the women who once lived there, including sculptors, teachers and writers.

Bibliography

  • Kieszonkowy atlas kobiet, Kraków: Korporacja Ha!art, 2008.
  • Dzidzia, Warszawa: Świat książki, 2009.
  • Warszawa kobiet, Warszawa: Spółdzielnia Pracy Polityka, 2011.
  • Mama ma zawsze rację, Warszawa: Mamania, 2012
  • Cwaniary, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2012.
  • W krainie czarów, Kraków: Znak, 2014.
  • Jolanta, Kraków: Znak, 2015.
  • Smutek cinkciarza, Warszawa: Od deski do deski, 2016

Translations:

Czech:

  • Potvory [Cwaniary], transl. Michala Benešová, Prague: Argo, 2014

German:

  • Weibskram [Kieszonkowy atlas kobiet], trans. Antje Ritter-Jasińska, Berlin: Vliegen Verlag, 2012

Russian:

  • Kieszonkowy atlas kobiet, trans. Jurij Czajnikov, Moskva: Novoe Lit. Obozrenie, 2011.

Slovak:

  • Vreckový atlas zien [Kieszonkowy atlas kobiet], trans. Katarina Laucikova, Bratislava: Ladon, 2011