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Killing the Second Dog

Killing the Second Dog

by Marek Hlasko, Tomasz Mirkowicz, Lesley Chamberlain

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"Hlasko's story comes off the page at you like a pit bull."—The Washington Post

“His writing is taut and psychologically nuanced like that of the great dime-store novelist Georges Simenon, his novelistic world as profane as Isaac Babel's.”—Wall Street Journal

"Spokesman for those who were angry and beat . . . turbulent


"Hlasko's story comes off the page at you like a pit bull."—The Washington Post

“His writing is taut and psychologically nuanced like that of the great dime-store novelist Georges Simenon, his novelistic world as profane as Isaac Babel's.”—Wall Street Journal

"Spokesman for those who were angry and beat . . . turbulent, temperamental, and tortured."—The New York Times

"A must-read . . . piercing and compelling."—Kirkus Reviews

"A self-taught writer with an uncanny gift for narrative and dialogue."—Roman Polanski

“Marek Hlasko … lived through what he wrote and died of an overdose of solitude and not enough love.”— Jerzy Kosinski, author of The Painted Bird and Being There

"A glittering black comedy ... that is equally entertaining and wrenching."
Publishers Weekly

"The idol of Poland's young generation in 1956."
— Czeslaw Milosz, 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature

Robert and Jacob are down-and-out Polish con men living in Israel in the 1960s. They're planning to run a scam on an American widow visiting the country. Robert, who masterminds the scheme, and Jacob, who acts it out, are tough, desperate men, adrift in the nasty underworld of Tel Aviv. Robert arranges for Jacob to run into the woman, whose heart is open; the men are hoping her wallet is too. What follows is a story of love, deception, cruelty, and shame, as Jacob pretends to fall in love with her. It's not just Jacob who's performing a role; nearly all the characters are actors in an ugly story, complete with parts for murder and suicide. Marek Hlasko's writing combines brutal realism with smoky, hardboiled dialogue in a bleak world where violence is the norm and love is often only an act.

Marek Hlasko, known as the James Dean of Eastern Europe, was exiled from Communist Poland and spent his life wandering the globe. He died in 1969 of an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A glittering black comedy constitutes the English-language debut of a celebrated Polish writer. Hlasko (1934-1969) perfectly balances dark humor with pathos in this short, swift novel about two Polish exiles in Israel who execute an elaborate scheme: with the subtle help of Robert, his ``manager,'' the narrator, Jacob, woos vacationing American women. The suitor courts not with poetry or flowers, however, but with declarations of his own failure and refusals to enter a relationship (``I won't bring you luck. I'm a loser, you know. Nothing ever changes for men like me''). Robert, a Shakespeare devotee, coaches him: ``Smile like someone who's forced to lend his sports car to his mother-in-law . . . . Do you see your motivation now?'' But for all of the duo's clever plots and witty observations, they are not clowns; rather, they are tormented by history and memories of war, and by their own love of art as redemptive of the squalor they see around them. The weightiness of Hlasko's themes is counterpointed by minor characters who waver between the grotesque and the hilarious, such as the female target's horrid young son, resulting in a read that is equally entertaining and wrenching. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
Two rough-and-tumble Polish grifters scam an American widow in 1950s Tel Aviv. An eclectic novel, this gut punch by the late Polish writer Hlasko (The Graveyard, 2013, etc.) is very much an artifact of its times, but it's a fascinating fusion of styles and rhythms from the Beat period and a moving play about the sacrifice of one's dignity. The protagonists are Robert and Jacob, two Polish refugees living day to day in the stark early days of the Jewish state. Robert is the brains of the duo, a ruthless manipulator who plans his scams like Shakespearean dramas; Jacob is the beautiful boy who is starting to question his place in this dark world. "The worst part is that I have to feel ashamed twice….Both before and after the act," Jacob says. "You've got no choice," Robert responds. "That's why you're so tragic. Oedipus plucked his eyes out so he wouldn't have to see the world. Think in similar terms." Their modus operandi is defrauding wealthy American women visiting the newly formed country, fueling their binges of drugs, alcohol, violence and vice. Had this been written in America at the same time, we would call it noir, in the vein of Jim Thompson with a touch of Kerouac's spontaneity. Somehow, Hlasko gives it a more barren, mournful tone, though, and a host of literary influences make this a must-read for scholars of the period. The author was a dissident who raged against conformity, and it's easy to see the influences of Chekhov and Dostoevsky at play, but the novel most closely resembles The Stranger in both tone and character. A moving introduction by British novelist and journalist Lesley Chamberlain lends insightful context to both this dark, spare novel and the novelist's own tragic arc. A cheerless morality play that is as piercing and compelling as its Western contemporaries.

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New Vessel Press
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Meet the Author

Marek Hlasko, known as the Polish James Dean, made his literary debut in 1956 with a short story collection. Born in 1933, he was known for his brutal prose style and his unflinching eye toward his surroundings. In 1956, Hlasko went to France; while there, he fell out of favor with the Polish communist authorities, and was given a choice of returning home and renouncing some of his work, or staying abroad forever. He chose the latter, and spent the next decade living and writing in many countries, from France to West Germany to the United States to Israel. Hlasko died in 1969 of a fatal mixture of alcohol and sleeping pills in Wiesbaden, West Germany, preparing for another sojourn in Israel. Besides Killing the Second Dog, his translated works include the novels Eighth Day of the Week, All Backs Were Turned, Next Stop – Paradise,and The Graveyard, and a memoir, Beautiful Twentysomethings.

Tomasz Mirkowicz: Tomasz Mirkowicz, translator of American and British fiction, was born in Warsaw in 1953. He translated into Polish the works of Ken Kesey, George Orwell, Jerzy Kosinski, Harry Matthews, Robert Coover, Alan Sillitoe and Charles Bukowski. Mirkowicz, also a fiction writer and critic, died in 2003.

Lesley Chamberlain: Lesley Chamberlain is a British journalist, travel writer and historian of Russian and German culture and has published short stories and novels and written about food. Her works include Nietzsche in Turin and The Philosophy Steamer Lenin and the Exile of the Intelligentsia.

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