Close Countries

Julia Fiedorczuk
Close Countries
  • Marginesy
    Warszawa 2016
    288 pages
    ISBN 978-83-65282-58-3

A collection of short stories titled Close Countries is the fourth book of prose by this extraordinarily versatile writer. The book’s three sections – “Escape Zone”, “Close Countries” and “Maria’s Morning” (which is a reprint of Fiedorczuk’s prose debut in 2010) – form a whole in which consecutive stories focus on a central problem, elucidating it from various perspectives. All of the stories address pivotal experiences in Fiedorczuk’s overall work. In “Escape Zone”, it’s a feeling of weightlessness, an impression of being cut off from one’s own life, of drifting somewhere off to the side. The dominant feeling here is of weariness with the repetitiveness of everyday reality and the search for ephemeral moments when life, for a fraction of a second, gains meaning. “Maria’s Morning” concentrates on struggles with being a woman, unwanted corporeality, and questions concerning how to build one’s own identity after experiencing violence and the violation of psychological and physical boundaries.

The stories in the section “Close Countries” are central to the book – they’re placed in the middle, between “Escape Zone” and “Maria’s Morning”. But they’re also central because their significance is an answer, to a certain extent, to questions posed in the remaining parts. In this group of stories, Fiedorczuk expresses a surprising faith in intimacy and in the power of people and literature, which can make huge changes in a person’s life.

The protagonists of Close Countries are people who are wounded and lost, who don’t always make good choices and don’t always understand if their actions make sense. But they’re capable of taking risks and exposing themselves to another person. Something very essential in Fiedorczuk’s writing is the endeavour to understand how average characters think, whether they are homeless people, waitresses, manual workers, university lecturers or writers. Another unique aspect of her work is her faith in the power of language – a strong conviction that literature is for everyone and that anyone can understand poetry. All that’s necessary is to be free of prejudice, to believe in one’s own powers and to open oneself up to the text. 

In one of her essays, Fiedorczuk wrote that “it’s necessary to acknowledge the reality of pain and to accept it as something that can lead to an empathetic opening up to other suffering beings”. In her stories, she shows that such behaviour is attainable and doesn’t exceed any of our abilities. Her works are like the paper cranes which one of her characters makes with excerpts of “The Song of Songs” written on them in Hebrew – they are divided by the beauty of words and speak of love, which is sometimes difficult but is the only path.

In Close Countries, Fiedorczuk reveals the sensitivity of all beings, and discloses that even tarantulas are frail and delicate, and their venom isn’t as dangerous as we’ve grown accustomed to thinking. She seems to say that we, ourselves, create many of our fears and threats.

Aleksandra Byrska

Translated by Scotia Gilroy