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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Marek Bieńczyk

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To purchase Tworki

Title: Tworki
Author: Marek Bieńczyk
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 174 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: Tworki - US
Tworki - UK
Tworki - Canada
Tworki - France
  • Polish title: Tworki
  • Translated by Benjamin Paloff

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Our Assessment:

B+ : heady, unexpected slice of Polish life during the German occupation in World War II

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 13/3/2009 Wojciech Jajdelski

  From the Reviews:
  • "Some of the novel's allusiveness is lost, but Benjamin Paloff has successfully recreated its weird linguistic charm in English. An extended lover's discourse in the form of a war novel, Tworki stands out from recent Polish fiction and rewards the close atention it demands." - Wojciech Jajdelski

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tworki may, at first sight, seem like a book that covers very familiar ground, yet another Eastern European novel set mainly in World War II. Not only that, but it's a novel in which much of the action takes place in a mental institution, complete with deluded patients who believe they are great men of the past; a setting that authors can't seem to resist using for allegory. As if that weren't enough, the central figure is a budding poet ! And yet even as it uses familiar tropes Tworki defies expectations.
       Defiance -- and it is an active defiance -- comes most obviously in the presentation, as Bieńczyk's language is far removed from the almost neutral-sounding accounts of much fiction focussed on these times. Bieńczyk's protagonist, Jerzy (also called Jurek), is a young man (born in 1921) and, more significantly, a young poet, and his Romantic approach to life and language is mirrored in Bieńczyk's own. He is focussed on himself, and on his passion for Sonia, and while not blind to everything happening around him he is unable to really apprehend it; the abstraction of language, and its possibilities -- something he can completely control -- are what fascinate and move him. Like many other young poets he withdraws into language, too: even as he participates -- he takes a job as a bookkeeper, of all things ! -- he falls back on his literary creations rather than confronting the reality around him as fully as perhaps the times demand.
       (Throughout, Bieńczyk also frequently refers to Jerzy/Jurek by fanciful nicknames (additionally strained in translation ...) -- Jerzy-over-the Hedgy, Jurek a-Blurr-ek, Jurek Paper-Pusher-ek, etc. -- to emphasise that he is not yet a fully-formed individual, still groping for a definitive identity.)
       Jerzy gets a job at Tworki, a psychiatric facility whose name apparently is as familiar to Polish readers as Bedlam would be in the UK, or Bellevue in the US. But while the deluded do figure in the story, Bieńczyk doesn't go overboard using the setting -- though he does have Jerzy break down eventually, with an outburst suggesting (the obvious):

Tworki, Tworki everywhere. Tworki in my room. Tworki in my home. Tworki in the whole country.
       But, effectively, the madness -- in Tworki, in the country around them -- remains, for the most part, at a distance -- making the moments when it comes into sharper focus all the more powerful.
       The book begins with Sonia's farewell letter to Jerzy, and if its exact meaning isn't immediately clear, the fatalism -- "Seems like it's the way it had to be !" -- and the reaction Jurek ('Incorrect-Who-Looks-Like-a-Car-Wreck') has make clear from the start that there's no happy ending here. But the book jumps back to happier times, when Jerzy takes the job at Tworki and first meets the elusive and alluring Sonia, and describes their life in those war-years. It's not so much a love-story, or even your usual story of a group of friends in difficult times, as Bieńczyk continuously manages to keep the reader off-balance with his elliptical and roundabout presentation.
       Rarely is the writing plain or straightforward; generally he prefers the exaggerated and circuitous. Typically:
     All roads had now led to the end of the year, by wings above, by corridors below, their moles already sleepy, and first of all, to be sure, by streets.
       It doesn't always make for easy reading -- and, to repeat: Tworki is a narrative that constantly defies expectations, a story that is, on some levels very simple, and yet one in which Bieńczyk never allows the reader to simply bob along.
       Not easy, or easy to take, Tworki is also a powerful work of fiction. In part that is also because of the unusual -- or at least atypical -- approach(es) Bieńczyk takes, a welcome change from so much of the literature about the times.
       Unusual, but worthwhile.

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Tworki: Reviews: Marek Bieńczyk: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Marek Bieńczyk was born in 1956.

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