Poland | 2014
Olga Tokarczuk is one of the most popular contemporary writers in Poland. She has twice won the NIKE Reader’s Prize. Her work has been translated into French, German, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian. Publication in English proved slower, but her Dom dzienny, dom nocny (House of Day, House of Night), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, is available from Granta books. It is set in the town of Nowa Ruda, a place with a hetergenous Polish, German, Czech and Austro-Hungarian heritage, and a tangled web of dreams and secrets to match.
Last spring seemed a kind of an eye in the storm to me. After having finished my six year writing of a new novel in winter, I suddenly got a feeling of losing anchorage and unexpectedly to me, felt free. I had plenty of peaceful space around me. Father had been already ill but we still did not know that he would die in June.
There was a strange silence everywhere. In such a state of mind I found myself in Santa Maddalena.
The best thing I liked there was the lack of the Internet (and even if there was, a trial of reaching it made the tower guest a demanding task.
Quickly, the disconnected world became precious to me by its innocence, weight and flatness like that of a landscape. I did not watch tv, or listen to the radio nor music. I did just nothing. Day after day I started to feel that my ego is getting bigger and bigger and that it is returning to its regular shape and size blowing up after it had been small like a crumpled paperball.
With great pleasure I started to spend time on reading my well-known and favourite books, Czeslaw Milosz and Thomas Mann essays, especially before going to sleep. I loved reading some popular titles, which I had copied to my Kindle before coming to Italy.
For everyone there it was significant that I was living in the favourite room of Bruce Chatwin, when he had been still alive and had made friends with other guests of that amazing estate. They even supposed that Bruce could appear one evening as an inspiration spirit.
The great final of every day was the evening meal. It was the time of naturally and gently constrained socialization of the anchorites.
Well, I am going to make a confession now.
I was sleeping long, reading late in the night, writing all morning while feeding myself on a thermos tea. Then in the noon, I was lying on the floor to pretend to myself that I was practicing yoga… in the meanwhile my thoughts moved on their own ready to make up stories, narrations… My thoughts cubed in that perfectly symmetrical room, circled around looking for a place to sit down like flying birds look for a place to have a rest. Then in the day I was wandering in the forest paths at the end of which I discovered old mansions all covered with ivy leaves.
During our discussions we agreed that writer is someone who resembles a magic garden: the less it is cultivated the better it grows. We also agreed that the space of Santa Maddalena estate must be closed in itself. It is a kind of a nest, or better, a tame fortress where one can feel claustrophobic and alternately, have a feeling of primal safety.
However I think that the real good spirit of this place, its basic and real principle and modus vivendi is Beatrice, who had changed an old ruined farm into so magic a place, the place of art, the work of art.