Nine: by Andrzej Stasiuk
Grim and harrowing, this novel by a deserter from the Polish army under communism paints a vivid and disturbing picture of contemporary life in Poland. Pawel, a young man in debt to loan sharks, wakes up one morning to a trashed apartment. As Pawel makes his way around Warsaw, trying to borrow money from Bolek, a drug dealer, and Jacek, his addict friend, Stasiuk chronicles their endless circuits around a Warsaw in the grip of booming cutthroat capitalism. Pawel, Jacek, Bolek and Bolek's henchman, Iron Man, are pursued by thugs and leave chaos in their wake, which has dire consequences for their women friends Beata, Syl and Zosia. Hobbled by the fast pace and gadget trappings of modern life, the characters are unable to express themselves, to connect with one another or to fully understand much of what they're doing. The seedy Warsaw criminal underground underscores Stasiuk's bleak motif, creating a tone that is unmistakably European and distinctly influenced by Poland's former communist regime. The novel, impressively translated by Johnston, offers a sobering vision of the new face of central Europe in a narrative that is at once hallucinatory, haunting and abject.