Wojciech Kuczok
Wojciech Kuczok, born in 1972 in Chorzów/Upper Silesia, studied in Katowice and has worked as a sports journalist and film critic. Since 1992 he has published poems and stories in the Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita, among other notable magazines. His first volume of stories, published in 1996, was followed by other publications, which won for him the unanimous praise of critics and numerous awards as well as the occasional comparison to Witold Gombrowicz. In 2004, for his novel “Gnój” (Scumbag), Kuczok won Poland’s most prestigious literary prize, the Nike Literary Award, along with the Nike Audience Award. Based on this novel he wrote the screenplay to the Magdelena Piekorz’s feature film “Pregi” (Welts), not only awarded the principal prize at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival, but also nominated as Poland’s candidate for an Oscar. Work on another feature film is in progress. Kuczok is currently finishing a new novel, while at the same time continuing his work as a playwright, initiated with the dramatization of his story “Dr. Haust” for the Warsaw Studio Theater. He lives in Chorzów.

This is an author who conveys the unspeakable, the inexpressible, in polished sentences of such beauty and musicality that his audacity and radical outlook are nearly overlooked at first. But only “nearly overlooked,” since the physical pains and emotional torment endured by many of his protagonists are conveyed using an unavoidably sublime language that allows every possible nuance to surface—the one subtly thought-provoking, the other crudely comical. In addition, this is how the flip side of suffering is made visible, as it implores luck, love, and freedom—achieved at a high prize. Repeatedly, Kuczok’s language elevates the border between tragedy and farce, while it entices with a humor as unconventional as effective. Contrary to what his existential themes promise at first glance, Kuczok is a great humorist. As an essayist, he vehemently pursues the victory of laughter over the catholic-nationalist regime of the Kaczynski Brothers, and, as a child, he was often reprimanded because of his unrestrained love of mocking whatever passed for a form of authority.

In Kuczok’s collection of stories, “In a Circle of Ghosts” (Widmokr?g), published in 2004, love and death often connect in surprising manners—with every conceivable variation and mood arising in this slim volume: from the thoroughly sensual-earthy first love between a young man living in a city and a girl from the country, and the loneliness of a psychologist, who specializes in abandoned husbands, to a symbiosis that even survives the mortality of the body. Though they appear to be in danger and rather fragile, the protagonists of this literary cosmos are often characterized by an imaginativeness and willpower, which, from time to time, allows them to overcome life’s limitations—if not death itself. This is the case of the young businessman, who, seated on a park bench, encounters a beggar possessing an angelic beauty: a stranger who, without words, reveals to him his until now unadmitted homosexuality and frees him from his straightjacket, in this case his priceless designer suit, the embodiment of the career climber without a soul. Or the young nun, who, during a train ride, submits with all her senses to a heavenly lover—the gusts of air rushing in through the open window.

The novel “Dreckskerl” (Scumbag) deals with classic subject matter—the downfall of a family set against an historically significant backdrop. Of course, as Lothar Müller of the Süddeutschen Zeitung observes, Kuczok chooses a completely different approach for this: “The war, the German armed forces, and the People’s Republic of Poland … all this appears in the book. None of it, however, dictates the laws governing the telling of the story. The momentum, toughness, and vile jokes in this family saga evolve from the decisiveness on the part of the author to keep contemporary history at a distance. This makes the book unlike the majority of the family sagas published in Germany over the last decade.” The hopelessness, muted violence, and desperation, which characterize nearly an entire century of Central European history, are arranged in a restricting private space, in a ruinous house somewhere in Silesia. “Dreckskerl” is the pet name that old K. uses to address his despised, weakling of a son, before giving him another thrashing. However, in the end the son’s powerful imagination and ironically fractured recollections triumph over the father’s brutality, while the house, the stage for countless familial battles, sinks away in dung. An evil vision filled with an overpowering, emancipating beauty—told as well as Wojciech Kuczok’s storytelling magic permits.