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  • The Memory of Private and Family ArchivesThe Year in Poland
  • Paweł Rodak (bio)
    Translated by Alessandro Nicola Malusà (bio)

In the realm of Polish literature, autobiographical texts have been exceptionally significant for many years. After 1989, following the democratic changes that occurred in Poland, a large number of memorial books (particularly relating to the period of the Second World War), as well as autobiographies, diaries, and correspondence collections have been published year after year. This trend has been accompanied by the development of scholarship on autobiography. The past year was no less plentiful than previous years. In this review, I will draw attention to Henryk by Wojciech Karpiński and Fałszerze pieprzu: Historia rodzinna by Monika Sznajderman (both of which employ private and family archives in very interesting and important ways), as well as recent issues of the journal Autobiografia.

Wojciech Karpiński's Henryk is in many respects a unique book. It is both a biographical and autobiographical work, as well as a recollective and diaristic one. The author describes his contemporary Henryk Krzeczkowski (1921–1985), an eminent Polish essayist, translator, and editor, as well as an important figure within the liberal-conservative Polish intelligentsia of the 1960s and 1970s, and an authority for many younger individuals tied to this milieu. Karpiński relies on both personal memories and documents from Krzeczkowski's private archives, including photographs and Krzeczkowski's diary. The uniqueness of this book comes from the fact that two editions of it appeared in the span of a few months. Karpiński discovered fascinating new information about Krzeczkowski's life and immediately prepared a new edition of the book, expanding it with an additional chapter.

The first part of Wojciech Karpiński's book presents the figure and character of Henryk Krzeczkowski. The most important source for this account is the author's memory itself: Karpiński recalls evening and night discussions [End Page 641] with Krzeczkowski at his apartment on Czackiego Street in Warsaw, near the University of Warsaw, where he would invite his interlocutors. As Karpiński writes, "Przychodziłem na rozmowy, zaintrygowany jego osobowością, ożywczą i pobudzającą" [I would come for discussions, intrigued by his invigorating and stimulating personality] (13). In reconstructing these conversations with Krzeczkowski, Karpiński assists his memory with imagination:

Widzę go, jak siedzi w drewnianym fotelu, przy niskim fotelu, na którym było okrągłe florenckie skórzane pudełko na papierosy przywiezione kiedyś z Włoch, na tle biblioteki, gdzie były jego książki, jego płyty dobrane wedle własnych gustów i wedle nie całkiem świadomie przeczuwanych planów architekta, który przystępuje do budowy domu. To mnie fascynowało.


[I see him, sitting in a wooden chair, near a low armchair, on which lay a circular Florentine leather cigarette case brought at one time from Italy, against the backdrop of his library, which held all his books and his records, selected in accordance to his own tastes and according to the not quite consciously felt plans of an architect who proceeds to build a house. It fascinated me.]

The second and longest part of Karpiński's book is titled Poszukiwania, and takes the form of a diary. This section chronicles the writings of a nearly twenty-year-long work on a book on Krzeczkowski, which was likewise an investigation aimed at reconstructing his mysterious biography, which raised many questions. The first written record is dated May 1997 and the last January 2016. Step by step and year by year, Karpiński strives to unravel Krzeczkowski's enigmatic life. He employs most of all "wszelkie papiery, dokumenty, listy, zapiski, fotografie, które zostały po Henryku" [diverse papers, documents, letters, writings, and photographs that were left by Henryk] (50). Part of these materials were made available to him by a friend of Krzeczkowski. The rest were obtained by means of internet searches, as well as letters and phone calls with people worldwide who might have known Krzeczkowski or know something about him. Karpiński himself emphasizes that "dotarcie do dokumentów z nim związanych wymagało postawy detektywa, pomocy, wieloletniej, ludzi w Polsce...


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