Berlinaw is incontrovertibly Kornaga's best novel thus far, and one of the most intriguing books of 2014.
This sprawling novel contains a whole gallery of colorful characters, such as the Twins who belong to a neo-fascist raiding party, bound by such a powerful brotherly connection that their emotional and intimate lives are otherwise obstructed. More central to the story, however, are two women – Ola and Ula – who seem to have almost nothing in common. Ola is in Berlin on a scholarship. She is over thirty, she has a husband, to whom she does not feel tied, and a small child, whom she has fled for the scholarship. In Berlin she mainly spends her time going to parties, getting drunk, and sleeping with both women and men. She is full of chaos. This is how she describes herself at the opening of the novel: “I was Polish, I was a Varsovian, I was a Berliner, and now I don't know what I am, maybe I'll find out, and maybe not (…).” Ula lives in Warsaw, and she is starting her university studies. She belongs to a neo-fascist group. This is partly because of her fascination for a boy, Chrobry; but Ula also seems to believe in the premises of the extremist ideology. Not that she intends to take them at face value. In spite of her modest height she takes part in violence against “culturally foreign elements,” in which she can be decisive and dangerous. Ola and Ula meet in Berlin in dramatic circumstances.
These female protagonists are flesh and blood characters, psychologically complex, forced to deal with various, often borderline situations. As such, they never freeze in a single posture, they do not shut themselves off in the worlds of their private views. They think and feel. They sometimes feel lost, to the point of near-madness.
Although this is a novel about clashes, about the attraction and repulsion of opposites, as a text it seems quite cohesive. This mainly comes from the style. Kornaga draws from the resources of colloquial language in heaping handfuls, he adds phrases from pop culture and political brochures, ably and creatively playing with various sociolects, fusing them together. The rhythmic, flowing style of Berlinaw sucks in the reader for good. It is also a perfect match for the descriptions of two urban molochs, Berlin and Warsaw, which are, paradoxically, quite different from one another, and yet similar (hence the title). Berlinaw is more than just a novel about two women seeking their way in life; it is about a clash of ideologies, and it is a brilliant urban tale.
Translated by Soren Gauger