20 April 2011 First guests of the Conrad Festival confirmed

Israeli writer, David Grossman, author of See Under: Love, will be a guest of the first day of the 3rd International Joseph Conrad Literature Festival (2nd – 6th of November). The writer will meet with readers and participate in a discussion on the condition of the contemporary novel. An exhibition of micrograms by Robert Walser, as well as a discussion on his work with the participation of Walser’s literature experts, a presentation of movies about Walser and films based on his prose have also all been planned to be held during the festival.

ATTENTION: Michael Houellebecq – one of the most widely-read writers in Europe, the author of the bestseller Atomised, will be a guest of the third Festival day. During the Festival Houellebecq will take part in a meeting with readers.

David Grossman (1954) is one of the leading Israeli prose writers, a journalist and author of popular books for children. Grossman studied philosophy and theatre studies at the Hebrew University. He worked at an Israeli radio station where he created children’s programmes. As most of the Israelis did, Grossman supported Israel during the war (the 2006 Israel – Lebanon conflict). On the 10th of August, together with fellow authors (Amos Oz, among others) he held a press conference at which he strongly urged the government to agree to a ceasefire. Two days later his 20-year-old son, Uri Grossman, was killed by an anti-tank missile during a military operation in southern Lebanon.

Grossman wrote the following books: Duel (1982), Be My Knife (1998), Her Body Knows (2002). His most well-known publications include The Yellow Wind – a story about Palestinians living in the territories occupied by Israel. The book was received with wide recognition abroad, however, in the writer’s own country, it gave rise to a great deal of discussion and aroused huge controversy. In 2006 a novel entitled Someone to Run With had its premiere in Poland. The book’s protagonists include Tamar – a fifteen year old who abandons her family and sets off on a search for her brother among drug addicts, and Assaf, a serious and very shy sixteen year old who experiences his worst Summer yet. The history of their increasingly closer relationship, which is characterised by inexorable fairy-tale inevitability is a frightening account of what happens to children on city streets and, at the same time, a magical story of the power of love. Grossman’s book entitled See Under: Love was published in 1986 (although it didn’t appear in Poland until 2008). It is an exceptional attempt to look at the Holocaust from the perspective of childhood dreams, poetic visions and surreal imagination. The protagonist – nine-year-old Momik – lives in the grief-stricken Jerusalem of the 1950s. The boy is a kind of a small detective who wants to learn what happened in the mythical land of Over There (meaning Poland). The second part of the novel is dedicated to Bruno Schulz. The grown-up Momik is a poet with his own family. He comes to Poland in search of traces of his beloved writer and creates an alternative story of his life. We see Grossman here at his literary best and his poetic impressions remind the reader of Bruno Schulz’s work. What also connects Grossman with the author of The Street of Crocodiles is the need for a new language which would allow one to describe the degenerated present time.

Michel Houellebecq (1956, although he himself claims to have been born two years later) is a French prose writer and poet, author of songs, an IT specialist by education and a laureate of the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (2002). In childhood he used his father’s name, however, when he grew up, he took his grandmother Henriette’s maiden name. He left France in 2000 to live in Ireland, and then in Andalusia. At the beginning of his adventure with literature he wrote mainly poetry. His first work, signed with the name ‘Michel Houellebecq’ was published in 1988. The La Nouvelle Revue de Paris magazine published five poems by Houellebecq under one title: Quelque chose en moi. One of the first important publications by Houellebecq was an essay about American weird-fiction writer, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, entitled H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (1991).

In 1998 Houellebecq published his second novel, Atomised, which went straight to the top of the bestseller lists, making its author the most popular author in France and all over Europe. Oskar Roehler directed a movie, The Elementary Particles, based on the book. The book, combining elements of a novel of manners, an essay and science fiction, generated a storm in France and the fact that the author was not awarded the Goncourt Prize was compared to the rejection of Cèline’s Journey to the End of the Night. His next novel, Platform, was published in 2001 and also aroused huge controversy – the book includes criticism of the Islamic fundamentalism and the French Arab League accused the author of spreading racial hatred; though in the end he was acquitted. In 2004 the writer changed his publisher to the Fayard company and a year later published his fourth and, so far, last novel, entitled The Possibility of an Island. Reviews of The Possibility of an Island had been published on the first pages of many literary magazines many months before the book was even published. The novel came out in a couple of countries simultaneously. The French publisher sold out the whole edition – consisting of 200,000 copies – within eight days of the premiere. Houellebecq himself directed a movie based on the book. Houellebecq is an exceptional portraitist, who knows how to maintain detachment from his work and has the ability to be inside the story and outside of it at the same time. He is thought to be an insightful accuser and critic of contemporary culture. He describes himself as a creator drawing on the tradition of realism, and admits to being influenced by Dostoevsky and, above all, by Balzac. The characters in his books are mainly sociopaths unable to adapt to life in today’s society, outsiders and recluses. The following four novels and one essay by Houellebecq have been published in Poland so far: Whatever, Atomised, Platform, The Possibility of an Island and the H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life essay.

You can read more on the guests of this year’s 3rd edition of the Festival tomorrow in the first 2011 issue of Magazyn Conradowski, a supplement to Tygodnik Powszechny, including articles by: Michał Paweł Markowski on lost worlds (Pragnienie nieobecności/ Yearning for non-existence), Magdalena Miecznicka on Michel Houellebecq (Malownicze zabójstwo Michela Houellebecqa/ Michel Houellebecq’ picturesque murder), Karolina Szymaniak on David Grossman (Piękne opowieści Dawida Grossmana/ Beautiful stories by David Grossman) and Łukasz Musiał and Arkadiusz Żychliński on Robert Walser (Znikający punkt. O Robercie Walserze/ A disappearing point. On Robert Walser).