Wojciech Zukrowski Stone Tablets

ISBN 13: 9781589881075

Stone Tablets

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9781589881075: Stone Tablets
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A novel of epic scope and ambition.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A masterwork." Wall Street Journal

An influential Polish classic celebrates 50 years and its first English edition

As Stone Tablets opens, Istvan Terey, a poet and World War II veteran, is serving as cultural attaché with the Hungarian embassy in Delhi just a few months before his country is torn apart by the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. He is personable and popular with Indians and Europeans, communists and capitalists, but his outspoken criticisms of corruption in the Hungarian government and the embassy threaten to undermine his career. Meanwhile, he has fallen in love with Margit, an Australian ophthalmologist working in India, who is still living through a tragedy of her own: her fiancé died under torture during World War II.

Draining heat, brilliant color, intense smells, and intrusive animals enliven this sweeping Cold War romance. Based on the author’s own experience as a Polish diplomat in India in the late 1950s, Stone Tablets was one of the first literary works in Poland to offer scathing criticisms of Stalinism, and was censored when it was first submitted for publication. Stephanie Kraft’s translation opens this book for the first time to English-speaking readers.

A high-paced, passionate narrative in which every detail is vital.” Leslaw Bartelski

Zukrowski is a brilliantly talented observer of life, a visionary skilled at combining the concrete with the magical, lyricism with realism a distinguished stylist.” Leszek Zulinski

A romance fraught with personal and political risk is at the core of this historically important yet previously untranslated novel by a Polish diplomat stationed in India during the Cold War inspired by the author’s own experiences, Zukrowski’s precise descriptions of India are memorable, and there is a certain throwback appeal to the depictions of diplomacy conducted through telegrams and glasses of whiskey. But it is Zukrowski’s trenchant critique of Stalinism and political message, bold for its time, that make this novel truly noteworthy.” Booklist

Wojciech Zukrowski (1916 2000) was one of Poland’s best-known twentieth-century authors. A prolific novelist, screenwriter, and essayist, he was a war correspondent in Vietnam in the early 1950s, and worked at the embassy in New Delhi from 1956 to 1959. In 1996 Zukrowski won the Reymont Prize for lifetime literary achievement.


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About the Author:

Wojciech Zukrowski was born in Krakow, Poland in 1916, in the middle of World War I. He was studying Polish language and literature at Jagiellonian University at the outbreak of World War II. Zukrowski then served in the horse artillery and within a short time he was wounded. After Hitler’s forces occupied Poland, he joined the Polish resistance as a specialist in sabotage.

From late 1939 until 1945, Zukrowski worked in the Solvay limestone quarry with his friend Karol Wojtyla, who would become Pope John Paul II. The quarry was a haven for Polish intellectuals because it was not closely watched by the Germans. Acting on a shared passion for "cultural resistance" to the detested Nazi occupation, Zukrowski and Wojtyla helped form an underground acting group, the Rhapsodic Theater an enterprise that could have brought severe punishment if they had been discovered. The two corresponded until Zukrowski's death in 2000.

Zukrowski married Maria Woltersdorf in 1945 and had a daughter, Katarzyna. He gained recognition for From the Land of Silence, a book about life in an occupied country, and Kidnapping in Tiutiurlistan, an animal fable critical of war, which became an enduringly popular children’s book. In 1953 he became a war correspondent in Vietnam and China and traveled in Laos and Cambodia. The death of Stalin that year eventually led to the "thaw," a relaxation of political discipline that revived hopes for increased autonomy within member nations of the Warsaw Pact. In 1956, as Poles watched the deepening rebellion against the communist regime in Hungary, Zukrowski embarked on a three-year tour as cultural attaché with the Polish diplomatic mission in India.

In 1966 Zukrowski published Stone Tablets, one of the first Polish language literary works to offer trenchant criticisms of Stalinism. The book was finished a year and a half earlier, but the censors held up publication until Wladyslaw Gomulka, then head of the Polish state, personally ordered its release. Shortly thereafter, a new print run was delayed due to political pressure from Hungary, whose leaders resented the novel’s sympathetic depiction of the revolt of 1956. Renowned film director Andrzej Wajda was refused permission to make a motion picture of the book. A Czech translation was printed but banned from distribution by the government; when the ban was lifted, nothing remained to sell because workers in the warehouse where the copies were stored had smuggled all of them out to readers.

Stone Tablets remained a favorite with the Polish reading public and eventually, like several other Zukrowski novels, became a film. Its popularity continued after 1989, when the seventy-three-year-old author once again found himself in a free Poland. In 1996, Zukrowski won the Reymont Prize for lifetime literary achievement.

Zukrowski died in 2000. He had written forty-four books and won twenty literary awards, including the prestigious Pietrzak Prize for Stone Tablets. He was buried with military honors in Powazki Cemetery, the resting place of many notable Poles. The Pope organized a special mass for him in Rome.


Stephanie Kraft has been a newspaper reporter and freelance writer for forty years. She is the author of No Castles on Main Street. She has been traveling to Poland since 1988, and has published translations of short Polish fiction in Metamorphoses, a journal of literary translation.


Review:

A novel of epic scope and ambition.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

When Wojciech Zukrowski first published Stone Tablets in 1966, it was banned by the communist authorities in Poland. It’s easy to see why. The book is a love story between a Hungarian and an Australian set in postwar India. But it is also about the bloody legacy of Stalinism and is a novel that, through its characters, rejects the fundamental constructs of the author’s society: communism, imperialism and even the institution of marriage. The title a reference to the utility of the old laws, those stone tablets brought down the mountain by Moses alludes to a journey in which sacred orders are broken. Now, 50 years since its release, this masterwork has been translated into English for the first time by Stephanie Kraft." Wall Street Journal

A romance fraught with personal and political risk is at the core of this historically important yet previously untranslated novel by a Polish diplomat stationed in India during the Cold War inspired by the author’s own experiences, Zukrowski’s precise descriptions of India are memorable, and there is a certain throwback appeal to the depictions of diplomacy conducted through telegrams and glasses of whiskey. But it is Zukrowski’s trenchant critique of Stalinism and political message, bold for its time, that make this novel truly noteworthy.” Booklist

"The novel has a vivid love story, a well-paced cinematic plot, and colorful secondary characters. As a work of fiction set in India, it still has few equals . . . The novel has been translated by Stephanie Kraft. Her achievement here borders on the miraculous."―The Polish Review

History and the present are well balanced in the novel: with its unusual perspective -- (central) European, but situated in a barely post-colonial then-still-Third World outpost, with world-events (Hungary, Suez) all at a distance, while the local and personal are in constant tumult -- Stone Tablets is a very fine novel of that time.” The Complete Review

A high-paced, passionate narrative in which every detail is vital.” Leslaw Bartelski

Zukrowski is a brilliantly talented observer of life, a visionary skilled at combining the concrete with the magical, lyricism with realism a distinguished stylist.” Leszek Zulinski

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