Krzysztof Varga
  • Czarne
    Wołowiec 2012
    ISBN: 978-83-7536-366-1
    368 pp

The central character and narrator of Sawdust is fifty-year-old Piotr Augustyn, the commercial representative of a Warsaw corporation who travels non-stop all over the country. The novel takes the form of Augustyn’s monologue, something like a general confession, a final reckoning with life, a balance-sheet of profit and loss, although the former is actually out of the question. For in every regard this man’s life is unsuccessful, marked by numerous failures, disappointments and humiliations; the unfortunate, rather ludicrous travelling salesman shows his dislike for everyone and everything. He curses his parents for failing to give him a happy childhood, and his avaricious wife who was disappointed by her husband and divorced him years ago, and silently badmouths his fellow passengers on the train (Augustyn does his thinking on the journey from Warsaw to Wrocław). He despises his colleagues from the parent corporation as well as the employees of other firms with whom he is always meeting; he hates successful people and losers, snobbish young people and trendy creative types. This list could go on ad infinitum – Augustyn is an utterly frustrated man, permanently filled with bile. The unlikable – to put it mildly – travelling salesman has only one positive feature – he is a great fan and expert on ancient music. But even this trait turns against him, because he feels isolated from the modern world, which he doesn’t understand or accept; he regards today’s Poland (the story is set in 2011) as a country which is badly run in every respect, and the citizens who populate it as wretches just like himself, but incomparably more hypocritical. And here we find Sawdust’s greatest merit – it is clearly a thorough send-up of the modern era. The sawdust of the title is not just the miserable stuff that fills Augustyn’s soul and defines his consciousness, but also, or maybe above all – according to Varga – it is what public life is made of. “Sawdust” means the universal lack of authenticity, the omnipresent hypocrisy and tackiness, the dumbing-down, the envy and rampant cynicism, every kind of intellectual rubbish. Of course he gives us an image that has been deliberately exaggerated and made into a caricature, but it is powerfully persuasive. The final scene of the novel, in which a crime occurs that doesn’t actually have a motive, can be read as a curious reminder. Varga tries to convince us that sociopathy and habitual hatred of one’s neighbours is not just a state of mind, but also a criminal predisposition.

+ Dariusz Nowacki