Anyone who knows the extremely funny film The Life of Brian made by the Monty Python team or who has read Joseph Heller’s excellent novel God Knows, just about knows it all already. Roman Praszyński has put together an absorbing and subversive apocryphal tale in which he parodies themes taken from the Bible and the Torah, combining Old Testament tales with episodes from the Koran and the Arabian Nights. It’s a real hotchpotch, very funny in places. The main characters in this story are Mea and Lea, the heroines of the title, who despite escaping from the burning ruins of Sodom had nothing but misfortunes. You could say the real Sodom was still ahead of them, featuring violence, rape, some hair-raising scenes and the slyly begotten, unwanted children that they brought into the world. Praszyński not only piles on the jokes and concocts some convoluted adventures, but also tries to present a model of the fate of womankind. The feminist perspective is the only serious aspect of the novel otherwise it is sheer fun and amusement.
- Dariusz Nowacki
Roman Praszyński was born in 1965 and is known for his scandalous writing. His youthful novels, anti-clerical, provocative and full of daring social comment, caught the attention of the reading public in the first half of the 1990s. For several years he was silent, but now he is back with his new novel, Lot’s Daughters.
It was past midday. A briny breeze was blowing from the Desert Sea. Two Angels came down from the mountains and stood at the gates of Sodom. They had woollen capes on their shoulders, and they were holding travelling staffs.
“Shall we knock or break through?” asked the younger. Angels don’t vary in age, but this one had younger earthly remains. His hair was blonder and his eyes bluer.
“No fancy stuff,” muttered the older one.
He knocked at the great wooden door frame.
On the high wall made of fired bricks stood a sentry. He’d been on duty since dawn and was having a mid-life crisis. His mates were drinking strong beer and playing dice, while he was getting parched in the desert sun. He was feeling frustrated.
“Who are you?” he shouted, eyeing up the new arrivals.
Angels cannot tell lies, but they don’t have to tell the whole truth either. The older one took advantage of this rule.
“We are here on behalf of the Lord.”
The guard looked satisfied. He spat over the wayfarers’ heads.
“And who is your Lord?”
The older Angel answered patiently, in a gentle tone of voice, the way people talk to children.
“The Lord doesn’t have a name. The Lord just is.”
The guard did not look convinced.
“You fellow!” he shouted. “Cut the crap! Even the worst slave’s called something.”
The younger Angel was bristling all over.
“Do we have to parley with him?” he whispered. “Why not just burn down this dump at once?”
The older Angel raised his hand reassuringly.
“All in good time.”
The sunlight was dazzling. The belly of the Desert Sea was sagging like a lead bowl. The clouds were reflected in it like enormous plates, as the wind ripped at them with its pointed talons. The older Angel started waving at the guard.
“My friend, we come from a faraway land, that lies very high up. Way up in the sky, you might say. A great ruler reigns there, and we call him the Lord. Please believe that’s his name.”
The guard thought for a while.
“I can’t let you in. The place is swarming with Babylonian spies.”
“My God!” huffed the younger Angel. “We’re not spies. We’re just seeking shelter for the night. Haven’t you people of Sodom got a heart?”
The guard took offence at that.
“Don’t you try teaching a Sodomite what’s what, you vagabond!”
“A Sodomite?” the younger Angel muttered from the corner of his mouth. “I wonder where the Necrophiles live?”
The older Angel gave the younger one a disapproving look. I’m going to write a report, his eyes said. He waved at the guard in a friendly way.
“I know you’re not a bad fellow. Just a bit hot-tempered. Remember your little daughter and her unlucky fate.”
The guard sighed. An Egyptian slave had borne him a sweet little girl. A little angel. But he hadn’t treated them well. They ran away into the desert and were devoured by a lion. The older he got, the more the guard doubted this world was ruled by anyone who had a heart.
“How the hell do you know about my child?” he shouted at the newcomer.
A smile of eternity slipped across the Angel’s face.
“I told you our Lord is great. Open the gates.”
The guard spat through his teeth and straightened his sword. He’d have preferred to send them both to the devil, but the memory of his daughter had moved his dried-up conscience.
“All right,” he grunted reluctantly. “I’ll talk to the commander.” II. On the day Sodom was destroyed, Lot dragged himself out of bed late. All night he’d been drinking at the Desert Dog inn. He could remember playing dice and staking a lot of money. Then there was a blank. He woke up with the hell of a hangover. He got up slowly, his brain rattling in his skull like a nut in its shell. He plunged his head into the rainwater tank in the inner courtyard, and felt relief. He called his wife, Adit, to bring him some kefir.
“You’re going to drink the whole house away and all of us with it,” she nagged him as she set the jug before him. She was thin and ugly. Lot had stopped sleeping with her long ago.
“You can’t drink up the sea, as my great-granddad Noah used to say,” he retorted. “I drink at my own expense.”
“Before we abandoned your brother-in-law Abraham you never allowed yourself such infamy,” she said, refusing to be beaten. “You’re the absolute limit.”
“Woman,” he said, sitting painfully on the ground, “the Lord bids you worship your husband, not browbeat him, so shut up!”
“I’m worried about our daughters. You’re setting them a bad example.”
He clapped his hands together.
“You always have to have the last word. Mind I don’t lose my temper!”
She didn’t answer. She knew she was treading on dangerous ground.
Her husband angrily rubbed the red scar above his eye, a souvenir of his quarrel with Abraham. It had been an argument about better pastures for his flock. He thought bitterly how much disrespect he had to put up with in his own home. And from a wife about as attractive as a hermit. Lucky his daughters were pretty, anyway.
Adit had borne him two little girls, Lea and Mea. He wanted her to give him a son, but her womb was empty. And he preferred the roundness of a jug of wine to her womanly shape.
“Our young ladies are growing up,” he said, wiping kefir from his whiskers. “High time to get them married off.”
“Have you gone mad?” said Adit in amazement. “They’re just children!”
“It’s already decided.” Lot was not accustomed to arguing over his decisions. “I’ll go and see the matchmaker today. You start thinking about the wedding. We’ll hold two at once to make it cheaper.”
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones