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ISBN 978-0-9557285-8-7
First published October 2009; 154 pp paperback with endpapers; 198 x 129 mm
click here to read a pdf excerpt.
Andrzej Bursa was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1932, grew up amid war and terror, and died aged twenty-five. He first published in 1954, the year following Stalin’s death, and in the span of just two years he wrote a body of work remarkable for both its fierce originality and its precocious maturity. His early death established him as a cult figure – the voice of his generation, and of later generations of restless, ambitious, disenchanted youth.

Wiesiek Powaga’s translations from the Polish include White Raven by Andrzej Stasiuk (Serpent’s Tail, 2001) and In Sarah’s House by Stefan Grabinski (CBe, 2007); he edited and translated The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy (Dedalus, 1997). He lives in London and a village in Hungary.
Andrzej Bursa Killing Auntie & other work
translated by Wiesiek Powaga
I’d been waiting years
Until the Prophet came
He held forth all night
Smoked all my cigarettes
I didn’t understand a thing

    (from ‘Prophet’)

I began to consider the ways of disposing of the corpse. It seemed child’s play. I’ll chop the body up, flush some parts down the loo, burn some, take others away in parcels and throw them in the river or bury them. Bury where? Ah, it’s a trifle . . . I felt light-headed and carefree. I decided to carry out the plan without further ado. I went into the kitchen with an open penknife.
    (from ‘Killing Auntie’)

We kill auntie – who is kind, who looks after us – to free ourselves. But how do we dispose of the body? And then, after the blunt saw and the mincer and the choking stove, what to do with the freedom?

Translated from the Polish and introduced by Wiesiek Powaga, this volume includes, in addition to the first English translation of the short novel Killing Auntie, poems, parables, short stories, lyrics and dramatic scenarios, showing the full range of Bursa’s work.

‘From the admirable CB editions comes a delightful discovery. Dead at 25 in 1957, the Polish postwar firebrand Andrzej Bursa acquired a reputation as a quick-burning, existentially tormented rebel: a literary James Dean of the Stalinist era. This selection of his quirky, darkly witty work – poems, fables, above all the titular novella– does indeed summon the shades of Beckett or Kafka from time to time. Everyday life slips into scenes of fantasy or horror, as when the local Party secretary sacrifices children to a dragon, “an old, blind, mouldy beast” that still tears them apart. Yet Bursa’s dark humour and deadpan satire – finely captured here by translator Wiesiek Powaga – keep utter bleakness at bay. Some will think of Dostoyevsky when it comes to the snuffed-out relative in the novella; read to the end and you hear something like Joe Orton’s wicked cackle too.’
      – Boyd Tonkin, Independent

‘Jurek is an embodiment of a quintessential youth … [His] only goals, before the disposing of auntie’s body becomes his prime preoccupation, are his walks around town. The book is full of passages of aimless heading out, of leaving the house, walking to this or that location, the places themselves don’t seem to matter. In these lingering passages, Bursa’s Jurek makes, or doesn’t make, decisions – to go to the fountain or the movies, or to get a drink, to talk to a girl. Until auntie’s death, he is ambivalent about things that are supposed to give life meaning: school, church. And although it’s that very ambivalence and blind groping for things to do, for goals, that is at the root of what could be the profile of cold killer, what’s interesting about Bursa’s book is that he is careful to refrain from moralizing.
    ‘Having come of age at a time when Soviet narratives of personal transformation by hard work, tractors and a grand finale set to the glow of orange-yellow sun with a girl hanging on the arm of a rising proletarian populated the bookstores, the challenge for Bursa was about showing the freedom to be young, and lost, like his narrator. For Bursa, who was no older than twenty-five at the time he wrote Killing Auntie, the work is as much about the author’s own youth as it is about wrestling with the body of the tired middle-aged caring but oppressive auntie of literature who dead or alive he cannot do with or without.
   ‘… Killing Auntie was published posthumously, when it was discovered among drafts Bursa left in his drawer. It was a breath of fresh air and a bold rebellion against traditions in Polish literature. Bursa’s translator, Powaga, writes in the introduction: “I first read Bursa when I was seventeen, a long-haired rebel in a school run according to the drab rules of ‘mature socialism’ in 1970s Poland, and immediately felt I had found a kindred spirit.”
     ‘The book is just as fresh now as it was then.’
     – Beatrice Smigasiewicz, Asymptote

‘The haunting theme of the novel may bring to mind Dostoevsky, but its macabre originality is strictly that of the author … Andrzej Bursa emerges from the pages … as a provocative, interesting, original and highly talented though always angry young man.’
     – World Literature Today

‘A revolution against the banality of everyday life.’
     – Gazeta Krakowska