The King of Warsaw: a novel by Szczepan Twardoch

A Polish friend with excellent English recommended this, saying it was the first Polish novel he’d read where the translation was as good as the original. It made me curious and so I ordered it from Imprints here in Adelaide.

It didn’t take long to read, it definitely sucks the reader in. But I put it down, finished, a few weeks ago and I didn’t understand how I felt about it and I still don’t. The proof is where the book sits in our house. It is on a table by the front door, put there on the basis that I would take it down to my local secondhand bookshop, East Ave Books, and let them resell it. If I were sure about that, it would already have made the short trip. So I guess that means I’m not.

It’s gruesomely violent. Never have so many penises been detached from so many men – and that’s just for starters. It feels real, the description of the streets and their characters in their day-to-day life. The politics of Jewish Warsaw v. Polish Catholic Warsaw feels genuine too. But I don’t know anything about the subject matter, so my feeling is no more than that. Another thing: I kept thinking this will be a Netflix series. Sex, violence and political intrigue will fill each episode. And it has some aspect of magic realism in it, which is not my cup of tea, but I thought was probably done well.

I want to find a review of this that might enlighten me: at least to the extent of knowing if it is accurate in what it talks of, the background to the tale. But I have yet to discover such a thing.

Sorry to be so indecisive. I hope that somebody reading this may help me form an opinion, at least to the extent of whether I should put it in the bookshelves or send it out into the world for somebody else to try. At least one way or another it would stop sitting on the hall table, a constant reminder of my indecision. I don’t like not knowing what to think!

2 thoughts on “The King of Warsaw: a novel by Szczepan Twardoch

  1. It’s so nice to discover that others as well as myself can be baffled by how to react to a book! Over the years I’ve reacted to various works in way similar to yours here. Usually this has happened when the novel has been well written and/or emotionally powerful but has contained some element I found extremely distasteful in some very personal way (I can’t do animal cruelty or animal experimentation, for example; if I know in advance that a book contains either, that’s generally a book I won’t read).
    Your review was very effective in arousing my curiosity about this work (novel & author are totally unfamiliar to me), which in turn led to an hour or so of internet “clicking” on various reviews. (if you’re interested, this is a brief one: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/king-warsaw-novel) At least one review agreed with your statement that the novel seems destined for cinematic treatment; most were generally very favorable; all agreed that this was one violent novel. Thanks for putting this writer on my radar, so to speak; while I may check him out in the future, I’ll probably avoid this particular novel.

    • Thank you for being sympathetic and yes,’Usually this has happened when the novel has been well written and/or emotionally powerful but has contained some element I found extremely distasteful in some very personal way’ is apposite. It’s really very straightforward to keep it on the shelves until I decide the book is less valuable than the space. But…..

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