Paweł Huelle

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  • photo by Elżbieta Lempp

(born in 1957) is a writer of prose, articles and plays. Throughout his life he has continuously been connected to the city of Gdańsk – where he was born, where he studied and where he works professionally (as a journalist, editor and culture animator). His debut novel, Who Was David Weiser? [Weiser Dawidek] (1987), met with high acclaim both in Poland and abroad. The action of this book – like the action of nearly all of Huelle’s books – is set in Gdańsk. The main character, David Weiser, is a Jewish boy who leads his friends into the ‘secret topography of the city’. He invokes the foreign-sounding German names of streets and neighbourhoods, and shows his friends the homes of famous Gdańsk residents, such as Schopenhauer. At the end of the 1980s, this gesture of openness to the shamefully silenced history of Gdańsk, a city which had been permeated by German culture and language – absent in the official versions of Gdańsk’s history – was of enormous significance. Huelle is, along with Stefan Chwin, the most important writer of the “Gdańsk School” in contemporary Polish prose. He also made reference to the phenomenon of Gdańsk in his later collections of short stories (Moving House and Other Stories [Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki], 1991; First Love and Other Stories [Pierwsza miłość i inne opowiadania], 1996). Interest in the history and topography of the city and its surrounding areas was accompanied by an exceptional sensitivity to mystery and memory, as well as to something that one could call the crippled spirituality of the contemporary person.

In the novel Mercedes-Benz [Mercedes-Benz. Z listów do Hrabala] (2001), Huelle made use of anecdotes from his own family’s history, evoking, in one of the book’s plotlines, stories about automobiles featuring his grandparents as the main characters. He didn’t stray far from Gdańsk – it’s here that the main character and narrator of Mercedes-Benz takes driving lessons and, like the main protagonist of one of Bohumil Hrabal’s short stories, attempts to address the lack of developments in the art of driving a vehicle. Huelle’s book – both in terms of literary allusions and style – enters into a dialogue with the Czech master’s prose; imitative practice serves, in this case, as a kind of complex tribute to Hrabal. In Huelle’s next novel, he enters into another dialogue – this time with Thomas Mann, who in one sentence of The Magic Mountain indicates that the main protagonist of this masterpiece, Hans Castorp, studied ship-building at the Gdańsk University of Technology for four semesters. Climbing the heights of imagination, Huelle, in his novel Castorp (2004), re-works, in an interesting way, this episode from the life of Mann’s protagonist. Above all, he contrasts him with the German east, the tone of which is shaped by Polish residents of Gdańsk, and even more so by Kashubians. This confrontation between the newcomer from Lubeck and the Slavic element is placed at the centre of the fictional depiction and, in the unanimous opinion of literary critics, constitutes the most valuable motif in Castorp.

The Last Supper [Ostatnia wieczerza] (2007) can be regarded as a return to contemporary subject matter. The action of this novel takes place in the course of one day in Gdańsk; the time is not specified precisely, but one can assume that what we are reading is set at the beginning of the 21st century, although it’s equally possible that this is the city of Gdańsk in the near future. A group of friends and acquaintances, most of whom are prominent citizens of the city, go to a photography session in order to take a photo of themselves, thus enabling a Gdańsk-based artist to paint a contemporary version of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper”. The present-day “apostles” all belong, in principle, to one generation, formed in the last decade of the communist era in Poland. This fictional set-up allows the writer to sketch a portrait of the intellectual-artistic elite, and especially to introduce the theme of settling historical scores. The topic of art is also important – a dispute is presented here from various angles between traditionalists and supporters of new forms (he spitefully calls the latter “avant-gardites”). In turn, Sing, Gardens [Śpiewaj ogrody] (2014) can be taken as a kind of summary of the writer’s fascinations to date. This novel is an expansion of the ideas contained in Huelle’s earlier stories. Once again we are in Oliva, a district of Gdańsk, in an old house on Polanki Street inhabited by Ms. Hoffmann, one of the few Germans who didn’t leave the city in 1945. She leads the child-narrator, who bears traits of the writer, through the wealth of German culture, particularly music. In the novel – which is multi-layered and intricately constructed – three stories are interwoven: the fate of the Hoffmanns (primarily in the 1930s), the tribulations of the main character’s father, a post-war tenant of a house on Polanki Street, and the life story of a certain Frenchman who settled in this same spot in the mid-18th century. In Sing, Gardens, Huelle displays a great fondness for the past – also in an artistic sense, which one can interpret as an attempt to give new life to old literary forms. 

Bibliography

  • Weiser Dawidek. Gdansk: Wydawnictwo Morskie, 1987; second, revised edition London: Puls, 1992.
  • Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki, Londyn-Warszawa: PULS, 1991.
  • Wiersze, Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Morskie, 1994.
  • Pierwsza miłość i inne opowiadania, Londyn-Warszawa: PULS, 1996.
  • Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki, Gdańsk: słowo/obraz terytoria, 1999.
  • Mercedes-benz. Z listów do Hrabala, Kraków: Znak, 2001.
  • Byłem samotny i szczęśliwy, Warszawa: Rosner & Wspólnicy 2003.
  • Castorp, Gdańsk: Słowo/obraz terytoria, 2004.
  • Ostatnia wieczerza, Kraków: Znak, 2007.
  • Opowieści chłodnego morza, Kraków: Znak, 2008
  • Śpiewaj ogrody, Kraków: Znak, 2014

Translations:

Belorussian:

  • Wajzer Dawidek [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Marina Szoda, Mińsk: Logwinaj, 2014

Bulgarian:

  • Mercedes Benz. Iz pismata do Hrabal [Mercedes-Benz. Z listów do Hrabala], trans. Sylwia Borisowa, Sofia: Colibri, 2009.

Croatian:

  • Mercedes-Benz [Mercedes-Benz], trans. Ivana Vidović Bolt, Zagreb: Meandar Media, 2012

Czech:

  • Davídek Weiser [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Pavel Miňovský. Praha: Mladá Fronta, 1996.
  • Mercedes-Benz, trans. Jan Faber, Zlín: Kniha Zlín, 2010
  • Příběhy chladného moře [Opowieści chłodnego morza], trans. Pavel Peč, Praha: Argo, 2012
  • Poslední večeře [Ostatnia wieczerza], trans. Jan Faber, Praga: Kniha Zlin, 2013

Dutch:

  • Wie is David Weiser [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Karol Lesman, Amsterdam: Amber, 1991.
  • Ik zal jullie over Esther vertellen [Opowiem Wam o Esther], trans. Karol Lesman, Amsterdam: Kasimir, 1992
  • De tafel [Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki], trans. Karol Lesman, Amsterdam: Februari Boekhandels, 2002.
  • Mercedes-Benz, trans. Karol Lesman, Breda: De Geus, 2003   

English:

  • Moving House and Other Stories [Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki], trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, London: Bloomsbury Press, 1994; trans. Michael Kandel. New York; San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1995.
  • Who was David Weiser? [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones. London: Bloomsbury, 1991, 1995; trans. Michael Kandel. New York; San Diego [etc.]: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992; 1994.
  • Mercesdes-Benz [Mercedes-Benz], trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Serpents Tail Publishing, 2005.
  • Castorp, trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Serpents Tail Publishing, 2007
  • Last Supper [Ostatnia wieczerza], tłum. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Serpents Tail Publishing, 2008
  • Cold Sea Stories [Opowieści chłodnego morza], trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Londyn: Comma Press, 2012

Finnish:

  • Kuka olet David Weiser? [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Kirsti Siraste. Helsingissä: Otava, 1995.

French:

  • Weiser David: [roman] [Weiser Dawidek], trans. François Rosset. Lausanne: l’Âge d’Homme, [impr. 1990].
  • Rue Polanki et autres nouvelles [selection of stories from: Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki; Pierwsza miłość], trans. Jean-Yves Erhel. [Paris]: nrf: Gallimard, 2000.
  • Mercedes-Benz : sur des lettres à Hrabal [Mercedes-Benz: z listów do Hrabala], Paris: Gallimard: nrf, 2004.

German:

  • Weiser Dawidek: Roman (Weiser Dawidek), trans. Renate Schmidgall. Frankfurt am Main: Luchterhand-Literaturverl., 1990; Hamburg; Zürich: Luchterhand-Literaturverl., 1992; Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verl., 1995.
  • Schnecken, Pfützen, Regen und andere Geschichten aus Gdansk [Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki], trans. Renate Schmidgall. Hamburg; Zürich: Luchterhand-Literaturverl., 1992.
  • Mercedes-Benz. Aus den Briefen an Hrabal [Mercedes-Benz], trans. Renate Schmidgall, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verl., 1996; München: C. Beck, 2003; dtv, 2005
  • Verschollene Kapitel: litararische Feuilletons, trans. Renate Schmidgall. Hamburg: ROSPO, cop. 1999.
  • Silberregen: Danziger Erzählungen [Pierwsza miłosc], trans. Renate Schmidgall. Berlin: Rowohlt-Berlin, 2000.
  • Castorp, trans. Renate Schmidgall, München: C. H. Beck, 2005.

Hebrew:

  • Castorp, trans. Rafi Weichert, Xargol, 2009

Hungarian:

  • Mercedes-Benz: levelek Hrabalnak [Mercedes-benz: z listów do Hrabala], [trans. Kertész Noémi]. Budapest: Európa K., 2003.
  • Utolsó vacsora [Ostatnia wieczerza], trans. Körner Gábor, Európa 2009.

Italian:

  • Cognome e nome Weiser Dawidek [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Vera Verdiani. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1990.
  • Lumache, pozzanghere, pioggia: racconti per il periodo del trasloco [Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki], trans. Vera Verdiani. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1995.

Lithuanian:

  • Mercedes-Benz. Iš laišku Hrabalui [Mercedes-Benz: z listów do Hrabala], trans. Vytautas Dekšnys, Vilnius: Baltos Lankos, 2011

Norwegian:

  • Hvem var Dawid Weiser? [Weiser Dawidek[], trans. Jan Brodal. Oslo: Gyldental Norsk. Forl., 1991.

Portugese:

  • A Última Ceia [Ostatnia wieczerza], trans. Teresa Fernandes Swiatkiewicz. Estoril: Sopa de Letras, 2008.
  • Mercedes-Benz - Cartas a Bohumil Hrabal [Mercedes-Benz], trans. Teresa Fernandes Swiatkiewicz. Estoril: Sopa de Letras, 2008.

Romanian:

  • Mercedes-Benz: din scrisorile către Hrabal, Iasi: Polirom, 2004.
  • Eram singur şi fericit [Byłem szczęśliwy i samotny, Opowiadania na czas przeprowadzki], trans. Radosława Janowska-Lascar, Mihaela Cornelia Fiscutean, Bukarest: Plirom, 2014.

Russian:

  • Vajzer Davidek [Weiser Dawidek], trans. V. Klimovski, Sankt-Peterburg: Azbuka-Klassika, 2003.
  • "Mersedes-benc": iz pisem k Grabalu [Mercedes-Benz: z listów do Hrabala], Moskva: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2004.

Serbo-Croatian:

  • Mercedes-benz: iz pisama Hrabalu [Mercedes-benz: z listów do Hrabala], [trans. Milan Duškov]. Beograd: Narodna Knjiga - Alfa, 2003.
  • Gdje je David Weiser? [Weiser Dawidek], Zagreb: Nakl. MD, 2005.

Slovenian:

  • David Weiser [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Jana Unuk, Ljubljana: Beletrina, 2008

Spanish:

  • Quién es Weiser Dawidek [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Pilar Gil Cánovas. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1991.
  • Mercedes-Benz: segúun cartas a Bohumil Hrabal [Mercedes-benz: z listów do Hrabala], trans. Pilar Gil Cánovas. Barcelona: El Aleph, 2003.
  • Castorp, trans. Anna Rubió Rodon. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2011.

Swedish:

  • Vem var Dawid Weiser? [Weiser Dawidek], trans. Anders Bodegård, Stockholm: Bromberg, 1995.