16th International Book Festival Budapest


Pawel HUELLE and Sylwia CHUTNIK literary evening

Thursday 23 April 2009, 7:00 pm

Polish Institute

Pawel HUELLE and Sylwia CHUTNIK

literary evening

23 April 2009, 5 pm.

(in Polish and Hungarian)

Polish Institute
Budapest, VI. Nagymező u. 15.

Pawel Huelle (1957) writes novels, short stories, newspaper columns and radio
plays. In the early 1980s he worked as a press officer for the Solidarity trade union. He
was recently appointed director of the Gdansk-based Wybrzeze Theatre. His highly
acclaimed debut novel, Who Was David Weiser? (1989) was translated into fifteen
foreign languages, won several major literary awards and was made into a successful
feature film. His other publications include three collections of short stories and two
novels, Mercedes-Benz (2001) and Castorp (2004), all of which have appeared in foreign editions.

About the book:

The story is set in a large city in the north of Poland, which may be identified as Gdańsk.
The action takes place in the “near future”, roughly ten years from now, though frequent
flashbacks go back to the early twenty-first and late twentieth centuries – the era of
Solidarity and the transition to democracy.
Bored with the endless experimentation of his avantgarde colleagues, and also
with incessant nonsense about “the end of art”, Mateusz, a professor at the Academy of
Fine Arts, decides to prove that it is still possible nowadays to paint a large-scale picture
on a religious theme, figurative rather than abstract, that will appeal to people who are
responsive to art and who expect it to offer them something more lasting than just media
hype. After much deliberation he chooses the topic of the Last Supper. Following the
example of the Renaissance old masters, he decides that the models for the twelve
apostles will be his own contemporaries, people who are famous in the city for their
cultural achievements. He draws up a list, and one day invites the twelve men to his
studio, where a professional photographer will take pictures of them all together at a long
table, as well as individually. One chair, where Christ would be sitting, remains empty.
Naturally, the reader does not find all this out at once. Quite the opposite – as he
or she accompanies these characters through the events of an entire day leading up to the
moment when they will all meet at the studio that evening, he or she will not immediately
guess why some of their behaviour, dreams, thoughts and memories are common to all of
them. Only from the critical turning point in the narrative – which is a terrorist attack on
the city – do we find out exactly where the characters are heading and why. Their present
intrigues and some flashbacks to key moments in their lives come together to form the
realistic level of the novel – the collective portrait of a generation whose youth coincided
with the final decades of communism, who were adults in the years of transition, and
whose autumn years are approaching in what is by now a completely different country.
However, for each of the characters on his way to the photographic session, the
most important question involves his own, very personal attitude to the event the painting
will depict. What was the Last Supper? Was it made up by the Evangelists, or was it a
real event that established the Eucharist? Who in fact was Jesus Christ? These questions entail others: which Apostle will I be in the painting? And could it by any chance be me
that is represented as Judas? Each of the characters has a betrayal in his past. In the
course of the day described in the novel, some will have painful memories of it, while
others will wipe it from their minds. However, it is not this fragmentary process of selfexamination
that provides the fundamental, philosophical theme of the story, but the
questions it prompts about Christianity in a Europe that on the one hand is becoming
more and more secularised, and on the other more and more Islamised.

Sylwia Chutnik (1979)graduated from Cultural Studies and Gender Studies at Warsaw University. Director of MaMa Foundation, working for the betterment of mothers' situation in Poland, including labour market issues and solutions, advising mothers how to combine a career with bringing up children. Cooperates with NGOs and social movements. Warsaw city guide and journalist in, inter alia, "Zycie Warszawy", "Lajfstyle", "Zadra" and "Zabytki Heritage". Her texts were published in books: "Kobieta i polityka" ("Woman and Politics"), edited by J. Piotrowska and A. Grzybek, and "Queerowanie feminizmu" ("Queering of Feminism"), edited by J. Zakrzewska. Author of a novel "Kieszonkowy atlas kobiet" ("Pocket Book of Women", Korporacja Ha!art 2008). A former Homines Urbani Stipend Programme participant.
Awarded the title of "Dama Warszawy 2007" ("Dame of Warsaw 2007"), "Wawoaktywni 2008" ("Active Warsaw Citizens 2007"), and nominated by "Gazeta Wyborcza daily to the title "Polka Roku 2007" ("Polish Woman of the Year 2007").
Chutnik is the prize-winner of Polityka's Passports 2008 - the second most important literary prize in Poland. Also in 2008 her "Pocket Book of Woman" was chosen by listeners of Polish Radio to be the Book of the Year.

About the book:

Each chapter in A Pocket Book of Women (‘From the Marketplace,’ ‘Liaison Officers,’ ‘Rip-Offs,’ ‘Princesses’) begins with a panoramic take, portraying nameless female types and sketches of the conditions in which they live. Next the author zooms in and focuses exclusively on the chosen representative of the ‘species’ she has carved out. The four main characters, representing different generations—one of them an effeminate man—are connected by the fact that they all live in the same building. So their separate worlds come together into a single reality. If we treat this as the reality of Opaczewska Street in Warsaw, then to use the biologically inspired determiners of Sylwia Chutnik, we may speak of it as an ecosystem and of its residents as representatives of an indigenous species that determines relationships within the system. (..) All of the fortunes presented in the book are moving, although Chutnik describes them in a tragi-comic tone. (...) Chutnik is extremely promising and certainly the most fascinating of the twenty-somethings debuting this year.