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Route 816 (Droga 816)
Michał Książek
published by Fundacja Sąsiedzi, Białystok

Reading the world
As you walk along Route 816, you can meet tractor Ursus c-360, the magpie moth, broken crosses and big breasts of a milker in the darkness of a cowshed. And also roads without address, foundations of an Orthodox church and the European mole cricket. Not come across, but meet, as these creatures talk. What do they talk about? This depends on the reader’s state of mind. Certainly about the bitter history of the River Bug region. But perhaps it is only an excuse to muse over man, one of nature’s peculiarities.
There are writers who cannot be copied – one can imitate their phrase but cannot borrow their sensuality. Bruno Schulz was one of those writers. Michał Książek is one of those reporters.
Maciej Zaremba Bielawski

Michał Książek

(born in 1978), spent his childhood in Oraczew near Sieradz in central Poland. He is a naturalist with a degree in cultural studies and a tour guide to Russia’s Siberia region. He spent several years in Yakutia in the far east of Russia. He has published his work in a number of Polish magazines such as Polityka, Kontynenty, Las Polski and Twórczość. His first book, Jakuck. Słownik miejsca, which appeared in 2013, was nominated for the Gdynia Literary Award. A year later his book of poems Nauka o ptakach was nominated for the Nike Literary Award and the Silesius Wrocław Poetry Prize in the Debut of the Year category. Another of Książek’s books, Droga 816, won him the Wiesław Kazanecki Literary Prize from the mayor of the eastern Polish city of Białystok as the best book of 2015.

Mindful Pleasures

Piotr Mitzner on Michał Książek’s book Droga 816 (Road 816)

Michał Książek takes the reader for a walk along the Bug River in eastern Poland. This trip is a bit like a lonely pilgrimage, but its destination is not the end of the road, but what we can see along the way. The destination is everything that attracts the eye and strikes the senses: the people, the trees, the birds, the insects. Plus their homes—all manner of nests, corridors carved out in sacred books by beetles of all persuasions, cottages, and hollow-brick houses decorated with a mosaic of broken glass.

Książek has the soul of a reporter who focuses on insignificant events, but he also describes uneventfulness—silence, stagnation, emptiness. To hear the silence and see the stillness, one needs to have an acute sense of hearing and a sharp eyesight. But that’s not all that there is to it because Książek also has a nose for sniffing around and a talent for spinning vivid tales about the scents.

Droga 816 (Road 816) is made up of a series of short episodes and reads pretty much like a poem. At the same time, it is a documentary set in a specific time in history, within the space of Poland’s former eastern borderlands. It would seem that this is where history ended or at least where it petered out. But this is only an illusion because we see the past (including our dark past) return in the silence and in the fragmentary stories about massacres, the Holocaust, and the partisans. And what remains of the more distant past? Nobody remembers today that this shallow river once marked the border of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish Crown.

Nature for Książek is a sight for sore eyes and a way to deal with troubled memory as does its job of reproduction. A carefree lark’s song is a hymn to life. The author transliterates its song in terms of an impressive phew-phew. Książek celebrates our communion with nature within the circle of birth and death, but he also highlights what sets humans apart from other creatures—our innate desire to wander around just for the sake of wandering around, and our internal urge to interpret the beauty and terror of existence.

Piotr Mitzner


Route 816 (Droga 816)

published by Fundacja Sąsiedzi