A to Z Challenge is my chance to go back to the books that made a remarkable impression on me, and the letter I brings a rather obscure title for my English-speaking readers, for which I apologize.
I first heard of Jacek Dukaj when his book, “Czarne Oceany” (“Black Oceans”) was released. My friend took it on our countryside trip, and I ended up checking the book when she was busy, and even though it wasn’t an easy read (Dukaj doesn’t shy away from philosophy, hardcore science, and language experiments), I got hooked. It was obvious that I’d read all the other books by the author.
I have to admit that for letter E of this challenge I considered “Extensa”, a beautifully written family saga, and at the same time a very original science fiction (I consider it one of the easier of Dukaj’s reads), but since I knew I’d be covering “Inne Pieśni” (”Other Songs”) in this very post, I decided to give E to another author.
But what makes “Inne Pieśni” so special? The superb worldbuilding and language experiments. The world in the novel, sometimes classified as “sandalpunk”, is Greek-o-centric (and based on Aristotle’s considerations on thought and matter, instead on Newtonian physics we’re used to), so all the terms derive from Greek, not Latin. It’s also a world divided in provinces, each ruled by a powerful “kratistos” who influence people with their own “Form” – though it’s much more than just physical appearances.
In this world, Hieronim Berbelek, once a powerful strategos (tactician) from the country called Vistula (this is also the name of a river in Poland) tries to find his place after failing to protect a town from an attack by powerful and feared kratistos: Maksym Rog, the Sorcerer from Moscow, and ends up pulled into an intrigue that might affect the world.
Dukaj’s undeniable trademark is thorough worldbuilding, and the way he throws the reader into the middle of the story without explaining a single thing, a single term. It’s up to the readers to find their footing and understanding, to put pieces together, and to follow the scientific and philosophical concepts. And no one like Dukaj creates the feeling of “otherness”. His worlds are strange, are different from what we know, and the reader can experience it with every momen, every sentence. Because of that “Inne Pieśni” are not an easy read, but nevertheless rewarding, until the end, which brings more questions than answers (and sparked at many discussions about its meaning), because Dukaj is not one to wrap the plot up in a neat happy-ever-after with some convenient explanations served in simple words. Oh, far from that! Dukaj’s books make one think long after the last page had been flipped close.
I can’t express how much I’d love to see “Inne Pieśni” (and “Extensa”, for that matter) translated into English, but I’m also aware of the tremendous task it would be, because of Dukaj’s creative approach to language. How many things would be lost in translation… But I’d still consider it worth the hard work.
For now, I can only recommend the texts that have already been translated, so if you’re curious about Dukaj’s writing, you can check the following:
- A Polish Book of Monsters where you can find his “Iron General”. The story, even though it has fantasy flavor, is constructed with all the rules of a thorough science-fiction worldbuilding, but at the same time is quite an easy read (compared to some of his other works).
- The Old Axolotl: Hardware Dreams is one of his newest creations, and I haven’t read it yet, but you can check Anachronist’s review.
- A short movie by Tomek Bagiński which is an adaptation of Dukaj’s short story, “The Cathedral”.