29 October 2017 European melancholy, Eastern surrealism

”Reading makes your brain more flexible. You are what you read” – said the American writer Siri Hustvedt yesterday.

The notion of ”Central Europe” has gained recently great popularity. But we often use it without thinking what really makes the region different. Might melancholy be one of its distinctive features? The Hungarian writer and translator László F. Földényi and the Czech author Jan Němec were trying to find an answer to this question at the debate opening the last but one day of the Festival. – “The artists from this region, like Witkacy or Kundera, hovered somewhere between reality and imagination” – said Földényi. – It is a state inherent to this region.” However, the panellists mentioned that our Central European melancholy is not so much our unique feature but rather part of a wider context. – We speak about the Russian soul, the Scandinavian darkness, the German Weltschmerz – reminded us Jan Němec.

And about Iranian surrealism – two Iranian authors Mahmoud Hosseini Zad and Goli Taraghi might add. – Our society abounds with humorous situations stemming from clashes between western modernity with local conservatism – said Taraghi. – And so is our writing: comical and tragic at a time.

During the last 50 years, 3.9 billions of copies of the Bible have been sold globally. Among them there were collector issues, illustrated, even children’s versions, but there was not any comic strip, at least on the Polish market. “In the Beginning: Illustrated Stories from the Old Testament” by Fredéric Boyer and Serge Bloch fills in this gap. The pages of the work are filled with short sentences and simple drawings. They do not lack references to the contemporary times: we will find there a tank, the Eiffel Tower, refugees. – We tried to avoid the trap of historicism – explains Bloch. – When reading the Bible, children should feel that the events described there are not disconnected with the present time. The background of the project is not only an artistic ambition but social aspects as well. – The project is aimed to counteract fundamentalism and xenophobia – says Bloch. – We want to give something to think about those who read the Bible but close to other people.

Éric–Emmanuel Schmitt’s recent book Człowiek, który widział więcej (L'Homme qui voyait ŕ travers les visages) talks about the results of the wrong reading of the Bible. – My new novel is about God – the author who has not been understood by his readers – said the writer yesterday. – Every text, whether the Bible or Quran, is a mixture, in which we can find both gentle and violent passages. It is up to the readers to decide which they consider more important,  because they co-create the book together with the author. The promotion of Człowiek, który widział więcej was not the only reason of yesterday’s meeting. Another was the Prix Goncourt, one of the most important literary awards which is granted every year in November – Schmitt is a member of its Jury. Taking this meeting as an opportunity, the winner of the Polish edition of the award was announced. The students of Romance studies from all over Poland chose the winner for the 19th time. The ”Polish Goncourt” went to Alice Zeniter, the author of the novel Sombre Dimanche.

Photo Alicja Wróblewska, www.blackshadowstudio.com | photo. Wojtek Rojek

For years  Siri Hustvedt was known as ”the wife of a prominent writer” – Paul Auster. Curiously enough, because in her sensational prose she writes about opportunities for woman  artists, about wearing masks, about how the society punishes ambitious women. However, as Hustevedt said herself at yesterday’s meeting, the feminist reading is only the simplest interpretation of her prose. The next levels is psychology and philosophy inspired by Kierkegaard.

– I want all those masks and narrations to push the reader to discovering the truth even if with a small ”t” – she said. Hustevedt also shared some comments on her writing method with the festival audience.  – Every day I read for four hours, and it is the reading that helps me to create various narrations – she explained. – Thanks to contact with books mind becomes flexible. We are what we read.

On the eve of the Conrad Award, the festival audience met with the winner of the first edition of the award. Liliana Hermetz talked about her new novel Costello, in which she gives an alternative life to a character created by the South American Nobel-Prize winner J.M. Coetze. The festival audience had the opportunity to meet with Cezary Łazarewicz, whose book Żeby nie było śladów.. Sprawa Grzegorza Przemyka received the Nike Literary Award this year, as well as with Dariusz Rosiak and Łukasz Orbitowski. In the Book industry stream, Michał Michalski talked about new forms of bookselling.

You could also stretch your legs – to follow Conrad’s footsteps in Krakow guided by the Festival Programme Director Grzegorz Jankowicz. The day was ended by the screening of The Remains of the Day – the adaptation of a novel by this year’s Nobel Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro.

What can we expect today at the Conrad Festival? For detailed programme of the seventh day of the Festival click: here.