In Tworki, a village just southwest of Warsaw, there is a psychiatric hospital and in that hospital, the patients and their caretakers are hidden from the war just outside their iron gates. Our hero, Jurek, answers an ad in the paper for a job there and finds himself keeping the books alongside a knockout strawberry blonde named Sonia. They and their group of friends—vital young people like Marcel, an initial rival for Jurek; Olek, Sonia’s chosen love; and Janka, with whom Jurek becomes involved—do their jobs, picnic on the weekends, and dance in the gardens on the grounds of the hospital.
Jurek speaks often of, and even in, verse, whether he is talking to his friends or in letters to a distant and admiring cousin. He and his friends live lives that defy the discord and destruction of the war in Europe, striving to rediscover or save whatever beauty they can. Much of this beauty is embodied by Sonia, who is beloved of all the friends and patients at the asylum.
But the revitalizing spring they all hope will come for Poland is not to arrive this year. Despite the relative safety of their odd surroundings, the world and the war soon come for the friends. Olek’s absences are longer and unexplained. Marcel is not what he seems, and he and his wife mysteriously disappear, she says, to the gas. And the perfection that Sonia embodies cannot ultimately be kept, by the friends, by the nation, or even by Sonia herself.
About the Author
Marek Bienczyk is the critically-acclaimed author of Terminal, a novel, and of several collections of essays and literary criticism, most recently The Eyes of Dürer: On Romantic Melancholy. A noted wine critic and expert on French culture, he is also a prolific translator of Milan Kundera and Roland Barthes, among others. He teaches in the Institute of Literary Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and lives in Warsaw.
Benjamin Paloff is a poetry editor for Boston Review and Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, The New Republic, The Paris Review,and elsewhere. His other translations include Dorota Maslowska’s Snow White and Russian Red.