Quiet Sunday Afternoon, A

Hanna Krall
Quiet Sunday Afternoon, A
  • Wydawnictwo a5
    Kraków 2004
    114 x 225
    160 pp
    ISBN 83-85568-70-0

This book includes selected newspaper features from the 1970s, originally published in the weekly press. However, three successive attempts to publish these articles in book form came up against the resistance of both official and unofficial, editorial censorship. In 1976, a collection of Hanna Krall’s articles, The good fortune of Marianna Głaz, which was ready and waiting for printing at the Iskra publishing house was destroyed. And although her next book, Six shades of white, did reach publication in 1978, it was severely abridged. She engaged the publisher Wydawnictwo Literackie to publish her next selection of articles, Hay fever, in 1980. It was printed this time, but this book, too, never saw the light of day because the entire print-run was pulped. The manuscript of her next book, Innocence for the rest of the day, was placed with the publisher Czytelnik, but was returned to her two years later without any explanation. Trouble standing up, a selection of articles from her unpublished books, was finally published in 1988 by the underground publisher Wydawnictwo Pokolenie. Two years later the same book appeared officially, along with a novel entitled Windows, which was previously published by émigré publisher Aneks in London. A quiet Sunday afternoon is a new selection of texts from these books. Yet none of them is repeated and this volume makes up a new, integral whole. Hanna Krall is a first-rate reporter, and her articles are about the fortunes of real people living in real times, but at the same time they have a universal nature, which can be seen even more clearly now as we read them in another reality, in another age. She is a master at rendering the language of an era that has now disappeared into the past. She only has to summon up a conversation she heard then, an object or a landscape she saw for that reality to flare into view, laden with unexpected meanings. Surviving as evidence of their times, Hanna Krall’s articles are also outstanding works of literature.

- RK

Excerpt

Topics to report on

“Mr Engineer,” I say, using the usual Polish form of address (so too Mr Administrator, Mr Foreman etc), “I need something interesting to report on.” “We are performing our duties regularly in spite of the holidays,” replies the engineer. “I know that, I read the papers. You also have cold drinks in abundance, but is that what you personally would wish to read about?” Then the engineer said: “Man, as a member of the human species, likes reading about love. Whether it’s Joyce, Camus or our own Żeromski, there always has to be a bit of sex. There have been attempts to drop that,” he continued, “and write about work, but that was never as interesting. So if you could combine work and sex, maybe you’d get an article out of it.” The subject suggested by the engineer: The final word on the topic of sex. He could be a highly qualified white-collar employee, and she could be responsible for issuing tools, classed as a blue-collar worker. They would both work in the same department, on top of which he would have a wife and child; we must uphold the interests of the family. It’s true that he should unravel the entire problem without a clash, but his wife would lie in wait behind a kiosk by the gate, and might go and complain to the union again, so that in the end the entire department would know about the affair. I should say from the start that the staff would be on the wife’s side. If a wife complains to the union representative, that’s all right, but if a white-collar employee has an affair with a colleague who hands out tools, he deserves condemnation. The social difference between him and the tool issuer who is classed as a blue-collar worker has to be thrown into relief, because it is possible that if both of them had been white-collar employees or both had issued tools they would not have stirred up public opinion quite so much, and public opinion would have been far less zealous about upholding the interests of the family. Maybe that’s why, when the union representative went to the manager and demanded: “We must put an end to this”, the manager replied: “Is it a bad thing for class to be significant for us in private life as well? Isn’t that what matters to us in our society?” In this situation the representative would himself have to ask the white-collar employee to come to the union room for a chat, which would go more or less like this: “Didn’t I complete all the analyses on time?” the employee would ask, and the representative would have to admit that the analyses had been completed on time, and faultlessly too. “So weren’t her tools in order?” Again, the representative would have to agree entirely with the employee. “The rest of it is my business,” the employee would conclude, so the representative would not be able to do more than limit himself to general advice (“Why don’t the two of you think it over again quietly?”), because he knows as well as the manager that it would be hard to find another specialist like the white-collar employee in their town. From then on, both the manager and the social collective would be able to consider the whole matter in a different way, and would notice a few things they had not seen before. That she had a very narrow waist, for instance, and that she had pretty legs, especially in summer when they were tanned, and that she always stood up perfectly straight. And that for a man over forty a tool issuer like her might really offer a lot of consolation. So when the white-collar employee comes to see the manager (and the manager has been the first to start politely bowing to her, either as an example to his staff, or maybe because he was subconsciously showing his approval), so that when the employee applies to him for a flat – because things have come this far now! – the manager thinks to himself: “Oho, look what shape he’s in now”. And he just limits himself to questions, or maybe advises: “Will that be your final word on the topic of sex?”, which would not sound at all curt or envious, just matter-of-fact, because everyone knows what their living arrangements are like. The administrator’s suggested subject: Family life. This article could feature the administrator of the dry materials store and his wife, who is working on her doctorate. He supplies non-alloy materials, and she is a senior teaching assistant at some academic institution; the non-alloy materials are dolomite, fluorite, lime, limestone etc, and supplying them involves physical work. He sits in a dingy booth and stares through a small, dirty window into a large hall. At six in the morning he looks to see if the goods vans are there, which direction they’ve come from, and whether they are loaded. If they are not loaded, he issues orders for them to be loaded, and once they are, he calls up and the loading department collects them. Two sets of vans move to and fro – an empty set comes from the steelworks and leaves them with a load, and so on, one after the other. Next, one could write that her male and female friends and their wives and husbands too are also academics, and have all either already finished their doctorates or are in the process of working on them, and so when they meet socially they talk about nothing else. He, on the other hand, would only be able to say how much dolomite was transported today, and who would be interested in that?

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones