Loon’s World

Aleksander Kościów
Loon’s World
  • Muza
    Warszawa 2006
    448 pp
    ISBN: 83-7495-048-X

Loon’s World" was undoubtedly one the most unexpected and interesting Polish literary debuts of 2006. Why? The novel’s author, Andrzej Kościów, a young classical composer and a lecturer at the Music Academy, who never had – apparently – showed any literary aspirations, appeared on the literary horizon as if out of nowhere. He showed himself to be an uncommonly mature writer, gifted with a rare kind of imagination, who already in his first book proved capable of creating an original and complete world. Loon’s World is a multilayered, Chinese box of a novel, combining elements of pulp and high-brow fiction, fantasy and realism. The main story is driven by a thirty-something antique book seller, Arrlo, who turns up in a city invented by Kościów which he does not know. He is also ignorant of his own past. He tries to discover who he is, in the process getting caught up in a romance and an escapade involving mafia-type organisations, in search of a mysterious book which changes its shape, as well as reality. The plot gets thicker and thicker, the mysteries and ambiguities abound, while the main character is balancing between dream and waking, truth and untruth, surfing the border between parallel worlds. The reader finds himself in the same situation as Arrlo – having to catch the fleeting sense of unfolding events, find answers to ever more questions thrown up by the story, probe the ontological status of subsequent levels of the created world, and stop to wonder who in this novel is inventing whom. A perfect read for anyone who likes literature of unbridled imagination, who looks in books for all that cannot be seen outside their window.

- Robert Ostaszewski

Aleksander Kościów (born 1974) composer and viola-player, lecturer at the Warsaw Academy of Music, teaching counter-point, composition and musical theory.

Her hand rose to her lips again, Harley took a puff and looked at me, blowing the smoke through the side of her mouth.
“Tell me about yourself in ten points.”
“Ten points?!”
“Yep. The first few you can waste on personal data. The rest on what makes you – you. Ten points.”
“All right,” I said. “Ten points.”
But I needed to think about it. It could be a good idea. Some people may need a thousand points, others have nothing to say. I thought my place was somewhere close to the middle, but closer to the latter category. Ten points should do.”
“I am 30 years old. That’s point one,” I said. And Harley put up her thumb for number One. “I work in an antique shop, I like it, but earn little. I live alone but do not bring women home, don’t invite friends, I don’t even have friends. I eat whatever comes to hand, whenever, even at places like VeloxMeal, but when eat I need peace. I think I like beer but I can’t remember ever getting drunk. I don’t smoke, but don’t mind when others do, as long as it’s not too much. I know very little about the world – never been abroad, never left my city even, and I don’t have a telly, but I’m not complaining. I like walking down the street, imagining we are all specs of dust: one Move of the Big Hand and everything whirls at great speed and in all directions but sooner or later everything slows down again and sort of floats, as before. How many?”
“I don’t know who I am, don’t know what I’m doing here and I feel someone wants something from me, and it bothers me. I sometimes feel I’m here by accident and that I’ll wither like seaweed if someone takes me in his hands. But I’m probably exaggerating.”
I was thinking. Harley held her nine fingers pointing in nine different directions.
“And the last?”
“Hm,” I said. “I like books. I got to like them recently. You know what I mean: books are books. They are like secret treasure chests. Some have a lock, others open with a code, others still have ten locks and all of them open or all of them broken. Holding something inside. I don’t mean the content, intrigue or the plot. I mean… don’t know how to put it… the booky mode of existence. The bookiness of what’s inside. I seem to like… to respect that. Shit, it sounds stupid,“ I sighed  and fell into thinking again.
It was an interesting experiment. Me in ten points. Perhaps I could adapt it to everyday life? It would certainly clear up my head. Ten drops of me once a day.
“All your points had the word ‘but’ in them,” said Harley and looked as if she caught me dancing in front of the mirror while putting my shirt on.
“Well,” I shrugged my shoulders, “perhaps everything has two sides.”
“Perhaps it has.”
She bent down and pulled up a couple of longer weeds by their stems, leaned her hands on the tree trunk and pressed her cheek against the bark. She stood still for a while and then turned over to me.
“Look at this tree.”
I did. I came up closer and looked at the lonely tree growing in the middle of a little meadow. A tree like a tree, I thought. It was not tall but it had a sturdy trunk. Don’t know much about trees, this one looked ok to me. It could be a birch, or it could be an oak. It had a single trunk, the bark a little wrinkled at the bottom but smoothing out towards the top. Some three metres above the ground it began branching out into a rather narrow irregular oval of a crown. On the ground surrounding the trunk glistened a moist brown carpet of fallen leaves, some of them still attached to their twigs. That was all I could say about that tree. I looked back at Harley.
“This tree,” she motioned with her head, “is my father.”
I sat down on the grass. Somehow I didn’t feel like standing any more.
Harley sat next to me, rested her elbows on her knees and knotted her hands. We sat like that looking at the tree a good while. I wanted to say something but didn’t know how to start. Clouds were rolling over our heads, very very slowly, but nevertheless determined on their way.
I examined for a while the blurred line of the wood on the horizon. Then I lowered my eyes and looked at Harley. She was looking ahead. I followed her gaze again: there stood a tree, neither a birch, nor an oak. A lonely tree in the middle of a small meadow.
Because I still could not for the life of me come up with anything to say, and not wanting to offend her, I put my hand on top of hers.
“He’s been standing here for the last eight months. He’s scared,” she whispered.
“Aha,” I whispered back. “Scared of what?”
“That something will find him. That something will happen to him.”
“Like what for instance?”
“A tree, as a tree, most of the time looks solid, but something dangerous might happen. For instance it can get…” here Harley hesitated, “cut down. It may be struck by a lightening. It may fall ill, and I wouldn’t be able to cure him. It’s very dangerous to be a tree.”
I never thought about it this way. Hard to disagree. We unpacked the sandwiches.
“Moreover,” she continued, “Daddy is not a tree species known to science. I spent a lot of time checking it. There is no other tree like it. I wouldn’t want it to be found by someone who knows anything about trees. There would be trouble. And I’ve had enough of those already.”
“I suspect so,” I said, though as far as my own ideas on the subject of a father turned into a tree, they were still far from clear.
“The soil needed softening, and that branch propping up,” she pointed at a thick, neatly cut pole with a little plank nailed on the top, on which rested the longest branch. I had to lean out to see that. It grew out of the invisible from where we sat side of the trunk, which obscured the wooden pole dug into the ground. “Moreover, Daddy was turning into a tree gradually. Different parts of him growing wooden at different speeds. He suffered terribly. I would bring him all sorts of things, sat with him… It was horrible.”
I said nothing. It must have been horrible. Harley rested her chin on her knees, then sat up straight again and continued.
“He was giving me all kinds of instructions, our lives changed diametrically. We had to keep everything in deepest secrecy.”
“How do you mean? You did communicate somehow?”
“We still communicate, though it’s not an ordinary dialogue. We use our thoughts for that, in a way.”
“Telepathy with a tree…” I said pensively and took a bite off the sandwich.
“Not exactly a telepathy, but for the sake of simplicity we can call it that. Since Daddy became a tree completely things are a bit simpler. And he doesn’t suffer anymore, which is the main thing, isn’t it. He is strong, doesn’t get ill too often.”
“That’s good.”
Harley nodded.
“Does he understand the words we are saying now?” I wanted to be sure.
“I don’t think it works that way. But he hears emitted thoughts when they are formed in words. I also hear some of his thoughts.”
“I understand,” I said, and decided to watch the thoughts I was thinking in connection with all this.
“Father says,” Harley turned to me smiling, “don’t overdo it, relax.  You mustn’t control you thoughts, it doesn’t work.”
I looked at the tree, then at Harley. It dawned on me that her father had just heard what I thought. Despite my best efforts in these circumstances I didn’t feel all that relaxed. I hope he understood, for Harley smiled. Telepathy or not we were here the three of us and that was that.
Translated from the Polish by Wiesiek Powaga