European First Novel Festival - 2016


European First Novel Festival will be held for the 16th time within the frame of the Book Festival to introduce talented young authors from the members of the European Union. This event is a joint effort of 28 EU-member countries. Guest from Poland: Weronika Murek

Saturday 23 April 2016, 3:00 pm

Millenáris, Lázár Ervin terem

Budapest II. Kis Rókus u. 16–20.


Weronika Murek: Growing Southern Plants the Michurin Way (2015, Wydawnictwo Czarne)

Weronika Murek (born 1989) is the author of one of the year’s most well received first books. Winner of the Gdynia Dramaturgy Award, which is Poland’s top prize for playwrights, and the Polish version of the European flash fiction competition. She is a graduate of the Law and Administration Faculty at the Silesian University and lives in Katowice.

Ivan Michurin was a Russian geneticist who crossed plants in order to create species that prove resistant to hostile climates.  He does not feature in any of the stories in Weronika Murek’s first collection but his words - “We can’t wait for nature’s favour.  Our aim is to seize it from her ourselves” - serve as an epigraph to her book.  The short stories in Growing Southern Plants the Michurin Way are, indeed, an experiment in narration.  The author crosses, among others, two perspectives – the very distant and the immediate one.  Her details are highly polished yet her narration is located in a space which is unreal, in the clouds (often literally, as both a religious thread and the ‘other world’ as place of action are important in he stories).

The author animates devotional objects, makes use of folklore and frequently places the sacred within a concrete, carnal framework.  For example, an angel annoyed by another angel crunching on a sugar-dipped rhubarb stalk, or Our Lady, who carries butter biscuits in the pocket of her dressing-gown and “puts one in her mouth, smacking her lips”.

By colliding styles, Murek creates a mosaic of children’s, folk and reporters’ stories: at times full of cruelty, at others poetic, and still at others full of absurdity - each time quickly lowering her voice as though running away from the reader.  Murek’s stories are a demanding read, something like a charade.  The reader has to concentrate hard in order to keep up with the narrator.

This juxtaposition of various styles provokes surprise which is the key to Murek’s sense of humour.  In one of the stories, while preparing a New Year’s party for neurotics, the hostess announces a lottery: “Every draw wins.  There’s a box of shoes in the cellar.  […]  They don’t fit us.  Can be passed on to the sick”.

Weronika Murek says of her priorities and literary techniques: “If I walk down Stawowa Street in Katowice and walk down this same Stawowa Street in Katowice every day, I don’t feel like walking down the same street in my writing.  If I don’t think that there is anything interesting happening there, I provide it with little access doors and crannies which open up to yet a different atmosphere on the street – not another reality but an atmosphere”.  Her debut collection is precisely such a field sport, opening up a different atmosphere.


Agnieszka Drotkiewicz

Translation by Danusia Stok