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Authors: Marek Hlasko

The Graveyard

BOOK: The Graveyard
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“A spokesman for those who were angry and beat, turbulent, temperamental and tortured … In
The Graveyard
, Hłasko stabs his knife into the regime and draws it out dripping blood.”


“Hłasko’s story comes off the page at you like a pit bull.”


“Marek Hłasko lived through what he wrote and died of an overdose of solitude and not enough love.”


“A self-taught writer with an uncanny gift for narrative and dialogue … A born rebel and troublemaker of immense charm.”


“Hłasko writes with great talent … Fascinates the reader with his conciseness, directness, and drama.”


“As a study of a peculiar limbo, the endless wandering, the alienation, [
The Eighth Day of the Week
is] exquisitely drawn, and intensely young; it’s about as good a description of being 18 as I’ve ever read, whether you’re living under the yoke of communism or not.”



“While urging you to find and read … any book by Marek Hłasko, I will yield to Hłasko’s countryman, fellow writer, and friend Leopold Tyrmand, the final word: ‘Even in his lies—and he was a man built of lies, some of them scurrilous, some of them charming—he conveyed always a truth. A truth we need.’ ”



(1934–1969) was born in Warsaw, the only child of parents who divorced when he was three. He was kicked out of high school and worked a series of menial jobs. While a truck driver, he began to write articles for a local newspaper, and soon after joined the crusading magazine
Po Prostu
as the editor of the literary section. In 1956, his short story collection
A First Step in the Clouds
won him immediate acclaim. It was followed by
The Eighth Day of the Week
, and two other novels,
The Graveyard
Next Stop—Paradise
. But when publishers refused to bring out his books, Hłasko traveled to Paris and published them in the émigré journal
. It was a fateful decision: the Polish authorities gave him the choice of returning home and renouncing his work or staying abroad forever. He chose the latter, and spent the rest of his life in Western Europe, Israel, and the United States. He developed a reputation as a hard drinker and brawler, and was often in and out of prisons and psychiatric clinics. In 1966, Roman Polanski brought Hłasko to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter, but while there, he got into a fight with the composer Krzysztof Komeda, who died from his injuries a few days later. Six months afterward, Hłasko died from a fatal mixture of alcohol and sleeping pills. He was thirty-five years old and the author of ten novels, several collections of short stories and essays, and a memoir.

(1900–1984) also translated Hłasko’s
The Eighth Day of the Week
Next Stop—Paradise

is the author of
and the Lew Griffin series of crime novels, among many other books.


I was by no means the only reader of books on board the
Several other sailors were diligent readers, though their studies did not lie in the way of belles-lettres. Their favourite authors were such as you may find at the book-stalls around Fulton Market; they were slightly physiological in their nature. My book experiences on board of the frigate proved an example of a fact which every book-lover must have experienced before me, namely, that though public libraries have an imposing air, and doubtless contain invaluable volumes, yet, somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much



Originally published under the title
, Maisons-Laffitte, 1956
First English publication in 1959 by William Heinemann Ltd.,
London, and E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York
Translation copyright © 1959 by William Heinemann Ltd.,
London, and E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York
Introduction copyright © 2013 by James Sallis

First Melville House printing: December 2013

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201


8 Blackstock Mews
London N4 2BT   

: 978-1-61219-295-6 (ebook)

A catalog record for this title is available from the Library of Congress.



Forty years ago, while living in London, I was exposed daily, as editor and reviewer, to streams of literature in translation: Boris Vian novels, story collections from Central and South American writers, short-shorts and plays by Sławomir Mrożek, Penguin’s
Writing Today
and Modern European Poets series. In the last I came across a volume dedicated to Zbigniew Herbert’s work and, following it back to
Polish Writing Today
, recognized elements in contemporary Polish literature—a jaggedness and dislocation, a seepage of the absurd and alien into dailyness—that was very much to my taste. I think of these discoveries as a specific hunger: the tacit recognition of something, some essential nutrient, the individual needs.

Soon I was reading Tadeusz Różewicz (
I am twenty-four / led to slaughter / I survived
); learning about Aleksander Wat, to whom much later I would dedicate one of my poems; scouting out the early work of Jerzy Kosiński; curving my young spine over Czesław Miłosz; and sinking with great sighs and eurekas into the ever-amazing, encyclopedic work of Stanisław Lem.

And as any wanderer about the roads of modern Polish writing would, soon I happened upon Marek Hłasko.

Were this fiction, he would be leaning desultorily against a tree, smoking a cigarette with a noncommittal air, as I happened by. He would decline the ride I’d offer, saying that, at least for the moment, he isn’t headed that way, but might I by any chance—his eyes at last meeting mine—spare a few złoty?

In 1965, situated for the moment back at Maisons-Laffitte, a town in the northwest suburbs of Paris where Jerzy Giedroyc, publisher of the émigré journal
, had an office, Hłasko recalled his first stopover there upon his arrival in the West seven years before—before he spun, grasping for handholds, out into the world.

In February 1958, I disembarked at Orly Airport from an airplane that had taken off in Warsaw. I had eight dollars on me. I was twenty-four years old. I was the author of a published volume of short stories and two books that had been refused publication. I was also the recipient of the Publishers’ Prize, which I’d received a few weeks before my departure from Warsaw … Disembarking from the plane at Orly Airport, I thought I’d be back in Warsaw in no more than a year. Today, I know I’ll never return to Poland.

Four years after writing those words, at age thirty-five and an exile for the past eleven years, Marek Hłasko was dead. He
had overdosed on sleeping pills in Wiesbaden, Germany, on his way back to Israel from three years spent in the United States.

Paris, England, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, the United States, Israel. One measures a circle beginning anywhere. So the spin, the circles of Hłasko’s life, blurred watermarks on the well-used wood of a bar.

Marek Hłasko sprang into the spotlight, arms outstretched, with the publication of the story collection
A First Step into the Clouds
in 1956, followed fast by a novel,
The Eighth Day of the Week
. He had already gained fame for his short stories, for his literary and film criticism and, as editor, for turning the student weekly
Po prostu
into a national newspaper. Soon deemed Poland’s most popular contemporary writer, in 1957 he was awarded the State Publishers’ Literary Prize for the collection, while his novel put on the new skin of fifteen or more languages as well as an incarnation in film.

Then, within two years, Hłasko the darling, having brought out two novels abroad once Polish censors refused to pass them for publication, became Hłasko the despised.

“I was known as a finished man,” he wrote in
Beautiful Twentysomethings
, the memoir quoted above, while ensconced again at the home of
, which had brought out those two controversial novels, “and it was taken as a given, beyond any doubt, that I’d never write again. As I said, I was twenty-four years old. Those who’d buried me so quickly with the skill of career gravediggers were older than me by thirty years or more.”

BOOK: The Graveyard
4.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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