For a Short Time

Inga Iwasiów
For a Short Time
  • Wielka Litera
    Warszawa 2012
    368 pp
    ISBN: 978-83-63387-09-9
    Translation rights: Wielka Litera

Inga Iwasiów's latest novel transports us into the near future, to a provincial city in a country which has withdrawn from the European Union and is trying to swim against the current in resisting globalisation. Some of the characters from Bambino, the first book in Iwasiów's trilogy, reappear in this pensive novel: first and foremost amongst them is Sylwia, the Polish Studies professor, who suffers from a memory disorder and seeks temporary escape from her work. Going abroad to carry out research for her university as part of an EU project forms a pretext for examining her own life, reviewing her own experiences for indications of the direction she should follow and weighing up her life in a way that is typical of middle age. Sylwia observes the development of a regional culture in this ex-European country and slowly becomes involved in the lives of a few of the city's residents, exchanging her hotel room for rented lodgings. A local hairdresser called Ruta also finds herself at a turning point. Just like the Polish professor and the other characters in this novel, she struggles to make a definitive decision: in Ruta's case the decision is whether to stay in her home city, where she feels she fits in, or to emigrate to America following in the footsteps of her more enterprising husband. In the meantime she runs a small retro hairdressing salon, an unofficial meeting place and talking shop for both younger and older women, an inconsequential women's utopia, where they discuss family issues, relationships with men and career choices. To that extent this university-focused novel (an uncommon genre in Polish literature) also examines social norms and human psychology as it focuses on the characters' thoughts and experiences. Sylwia tries to cope with a technologically mechanised, soulless approach to life, which requires her to communicate by filling in tables and giving points, and shuts off culture and the arts into a museum zone; Ruta shies away from abandoning her home city and hairdressing salon; her brother dislikes the thought of leaving his library collections behind for the sake of making his way in America. The main characters of For A Short Time are disillusioned and weary of the deluge of information and the relentless rush of new technology: they feel torn between the flexibility and modernity of Europe and attachment to their own locality and life at a pace to which they are accustomed. Iwasiów's novel describes attempts to escape the limitations and requirements of rationality, while at the same time warning of what awaits us just ahead. The calm tone of this novel, the sensuality in many of the episodes and the amusing and perceptive observations of day-to-day life work in perfect harmony with this vision.

Beata Kozak