Death of the Czech Dog, The

Janusz Rudnicki
Death of the Czech Dog, The
  • W.A.B.
    Warszawa 2009
    123 x 195
    208 pages
    hardcover
    ISBN 978-83-7414-558-9
    Translation rights: W.A.B.

Now and then I ask myself what it is that continues to draw me to Janusz Rudnicki’s work, when for years on end he has gone on writing in just the same way (mainly in a satirical vein) about exactly the same thing (largely about himself), though I’m not really all that fond of repetitive books… In my case, the main attraction is not so much his exquisite style, though he undoubtedly knows how to turn a phrase, is quite at ease in all sorts of registers of the Polish language and has an artful way of mixing sophisticated metaphors and crude expressions. Instead, what I like best is that he knows how to use the basic elements of his writing (satire, irony, humour, detachment and provocation) to create perfectly structured texts where every T is neatly crossed. To put it another way, there are no superfluous words or sentences, no waffle, as confirmed by his new collection of vignettes and short stories, The Death of the Czech Dog. The book is in two parts, entitled “First Texts” and “Second Texts”, and this division marks Rudnicki’s two main areas of interest, as revealed in earlier books – firstly, he reworks his own experiences as a “Pole abroad”, suspended somewhere between Germany and Poland, into satirical, sometimes iconoclastic stories, and secondly he provides his own special commentary on tales about famous literary or cultural figures and their works in unique biographical and inter-textual alternative versions. In the first part he once again quarrels with Poland and Germany (in the title story, for example) and makes fun of all sorts of national vices, while not sparing himself the mockery, ironically dubbing himself “the greatest Polish writer still alive”. Though to my mind the second half of the book is far more interesting, including a fabulous story about the weaknesses and eccentricities of Hans Christian Andersen (“Andersen, Andersen”), and another one debunking the myth of the Writer, about some famous authors who are past-masters at swindling people out of loans they will never repay (“The Book of Complaints and Grievances”). In his texts Rudnicki spares no one and nothing. Is he an iconoclast? Or a provocateur? Both, but above all he is a writer who has an occasional go at giving literature an airing and posing his readers some uncomfortable questions.

Robert Ostaszewski

Janusz Rudnicki (born 1956) is a political émigré who has lived in Hamburg since 1983, although he regularly publishes in Poland. "The Death of the Czech Dog" is his seventh volume of fiction.

On the barricade

Poles prefer to give their blood to Germans. In the centre of Görlitz a German company buys blood. Half the donors are Poles from just across the border. They earn money for holidays, clothes, and beer. … The most you can get for giving blood or plasma in Poland is six bars of chocolate. In Germany you can earn money for it. The company has all its branches in the eastern part of Germany. A few months ago it invested a million Euros in its fifteenth branch, in Görlitz, which is only separated from the Polish town of Zgorzelec by the River Neisse. (Gazeta Wyborcza, 2007.)

“Bloody hell and damnation, can anybody hear me? Hello? Send reinforcements! I can’t hold the barricade alone, there are too many of them!”
In front of me are our lot, coming at me from all directions. Behind me, in a building at the very heart of the city, is an army of German soldiers dressed in white, all holding syringes!
I’m a special government agent. My area of expertise is trouble spots – whenever they flare up dangerously and get hard to extinguish, I’m the one who puts them out, the special operations guy. You want examples? Remember the white squall in Mazuria? I was the so-called clairvoyant who found its final victim. It was thanks to me that no foreign army went into Tbilisi, and that there was no change of power in Georgia. It was I who made the breakthrough in the search for Nicolas Copernicus’ grave. And if I’d been in that car with Professor Geremek, he’d never have fallen asleep at the wheel. And if the Czechs keep putting off the erection of bilingual notices in the disputed Zaolzie region, one fine day they’re going to be mighty surprised. And if I don’t die first and the parties can’t reach agreement, I’ll be the one who solves the Baltic pipeline problem, because it’ll be me, not gas, that emerges from it at the German end. Will that do?
The city of Zgorzelec had become a trouble spot: a hundred of our lot a week had started donating blood on the other side of the Neisse. If you could sell nothing but blood, the whole problem would have died a natural death, because you can only donate it four times a year (for twenty Euros per donation), but the fly in the ointment is in the wretched plasma! It’s cheaper than blood (only fifteen Euros per donation), but you can give it thirty-six times in a year. Annual income? Plus blood? Well, there you have it. A hundred of our lot each week, I repeat, and those were old figures. Now the situation had got so inflamed that there was no alternative – I had to step into the arena of events in Zgorzelec.
As I throw the parachute off my head I see a catastrophic scene – people everywhere looking like the victims of vampires, pale, white, and blue, only just trailing along the streets. After apologising in a feeble voice for not being able to get up from his chair to greet me, the mayor reports that I am to avenge our blood, because that lot across the river, to whom we are condemned, have been taking more than a pint per person. And paying for just the pint. And that half the citizens are off to give blood, and the ones who aren’t, are not because they’ve already been. And that the penniless people go, who’ve been made to live in containers after being evicted from communal flats for not paying the rent, and that people from the neighbouring villages go too, because the peasants have always given blood. And that no one knows who has donated how many times running, because the police are noticing an extreme rise in the number of stolen or faked identity cards. And in the number of illegal abortions, because everyone knows that when you’re pregnant…
The mayor hasn’t finished, but I’m already out there, right by the border – bloody hell, there really are masses of people here, the nearer I get to the bridge, the bigger the crowd! Because some are coming back, while others are on the way there. Stop! I cry from a military jeep, through a megaphone, stop, you riff-raff! They’re cheating you, they’re draining you dry like pigs at the abattoir! And whose lives are you saving like that, you donor-vendors? Hey, you bovine Polish men! Hey, you swinish Polish women! Why theirs? Why their lives? For fuck’s sake, don’t we have any casualties of our own, living at accident spots, because where else can they hope to get blood?
There’s no response – the Polish pilgrims simply don’t react, they just keep walking past me as if I were invisible! Here you have the first result of removing the border: the Germans donate bottles in exchange for a deposit on our side, and we donate blood on theirs.
So I set up some barbed-wire entanglements on the bridge – they get lacerated, but they get across.
In the centre of Görlitz, on the square where the Institute is, I let off tear gas, bangers and smoke bombs. That helps a bit – they retreat, but not for long.
“Bloody hell and damnation, can anybody hear me? Hello? Send reinforcements! I can’t hold the barricade alone, there are too many of them!”
They can’t hear me, I’ve got no connection to base in all this smoke and thunder. I won’t be able to manage on my own. I lie across the threshold, and they walk over me, they trample me – I’m going to look like a tablecloth after a wedding. A country wedding. I’m going to tear up my own shirt, it comes to the same thing, I’ll freeze to death too – who can hold out for long in January bare-chested?
Tough. I’m going to tear myself apart. I’m going to blow myself up, there’s no alternative. I’ll run into the Institute and blow myself up. And I’ll take the whole lot of them with me. With this entire Red Devil headquarters of theirs too. And they’re all going to hell, while I will go down in the history books. And my organs, if they’re any use, will go into some other, non-foreign bodies.

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones