Andrzej Bursa - 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?


Andrzej Bursa, Killing Auntie, Trans. by Wiesiek Powaga, New Vessel Press, 2015.
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A young university student named Jurek, with no particular ambitions or talents, finds himself with nothing to do. After his doting aunt asks the young man to perform a small chore, he decides to kill her for no good reason other than, perhaps, boredom. Killing Auntie follows Jurek as he seeks to dispose of the corpse—a task more difficult than one might imagine—and then falls in love with a girl he meets on a train. Can he tell her what he’s done? Will that ruin everything?
“I’m convinced—simply—that we are all guilty,” says Jurek, and his adventures with nearsighted relatives, false-toothed grandmothers, meat grinders, and love-making lynxes shed light on how an entire society becomes involved in the murder and disposal of dear old Auntie. This is a short comedic masterpiece that combines elements of Dostoevsky, Sartre, Kafka, and Heller, coming together in the end to produce an unforgettable tale of murder and—just maybe—redemption.

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?‘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

Disaffected university student Jurek struggles to dispose of the corpse of his aunt—a "very, very good woman" whom he murdered, for no apparent logical reason, with two hammer blows to the head—in this deliciously wicked novel by the late Polish author Bursa, who died at age 25. In an introduction to the book from the publisher, readers are guided to read the story, which was first published in 1969, as "a commentary on the political situation of 1950s Poland." While an allegorical framework would certainly help to explain some of the book's surrealistic elements—and particularly its turn toward dream logic in the final chapters—contemporary readers will also find plenty to enjoy (one sequence of unwitting cannibalism is particularly memorable) in the story itself. It amounts to a sustained tirade against what Jurek calls the "[t]housands of days, thousands of hours, during which nothing ever happens." Jurek's cruelty and misanthropy are matched only by his lust for excitement. Observing a fire into which he'll soon place his aunt's foot, he admires the "transformation of frail dry flakes now crackling in scarlet opulence." As he makes various attempts to get rid of his aunt's body—sawing it, burning it, mailing it, and even enlisting the help of his girlfriend, who briefly rekindles his "faith in life"—the reader will find surprising sympathy for this odd character.  - Publishers Weekly

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 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

Killing Auntie, written in mid-1950s Poland but only published posthumously many years later, seems an unlikely work to emerge from the then-still-Communist country -- but anomie among the young (the book's dedication reads: "To all who once stood terrified before the dead perspective of their youth") and existential-theoretical acts of murder apparently flourish across a wide ideological spectrum (though one suspects that the Central European situations across the ages have been especially fertile ground ...).
       Killing Auntie is narrated by Jurek, an orphaned twenty-one-year-old university student (or, as he puts it: "a twenty-one-year-old loafer") who lives with his aunt. "I needed a purpose", Jurek says early on, but he's an aimless, clueless, disaffected kid. An impulsive one, too, its seems -- and so, one morning, after Auntie asks him to hammer a nail in the wall he gives her two good whacks with it as well. The result is unsurprising: "There was no doubt Auntie was a corpse".
       No doubt, too, the murder is very much a symbolic one (how much so only eventually becomes clear) -- but that still leaves a corpse to dispose of. Which turns out to be a much bigger problem than Jurek had anticipated (not that he had really thought this through, of course).
       Jurek's act barely rises to the Dostoeveskyan; it's simply a motiveless whim. Or rather the motive is simple action of some sort, a flailing for purpose. In part, it is a call for attention: Jurek relates confessing to it in church before he even gets around to describing the murder, and he drunkenly confesses in front of the police, believing, even as they hold him fast:
     "I'm free through murder !" I cried out. "Freeeeee ! ...."
       Of course, he's anything but -- indeed, he finds himself jailed after that particular outburst, and even aside from that the millstone of the corpse that will not go away rather limits his freedom too. But, as he also comes to realize, it also gives him that sought-after sense of purpose:
I realized with absolute clarity that the only real thing was the corpse, at once a millstone around my neck and my lifeline.
       Jurek does tread somewhat cautiously, but he also draws an awful lot of attention to himself and to the corpse. But, for various reasons, no one seems able to make the necessary connection and figure out what he is storing in the bathtub (and trying to burn in the oven, and mailing by parcel post ...).
       Much of the fun of the novel is found in the grotesque premise of Jurek trying to dispose of the body (and the pieces of the body). From his efforts at dismemberment to his efforts at disposal -- which includes trying to mail away some of the pieces -- his deadpan account is gruesomely hilarious, as repeatedly he has to acknowledge:
Once again it crossed my mind that the annihilation of the corpse was harder than might generally be believed, that the struggle was tough and the adversary brave. 
       Jurek meets a girl, too -- "I allowed Teresa to take over all my thoughts and imagination" -- which is very satisfying, but also a complication.
       Jurek's endeavors are marked by typical shortsighted youthful exuberance. He lets himself get carried away -- only to be brought back down to earth by the reality of that corpse that he's keeping in the bathtub. There's little follow-through -- hence he's still stuck with most of the corpse for way too long a time. In many respects, his tale is one of a typical youth -- except, you know, that he killed someone .....
       The Polish backdrop of the times -- just around the vaguely hopeful time before the events of 1956 in Hungary and Poland -- allows a bit more to be read into the story too, with Jurek's interactions with others -- the authorities (religious and political), neighbors, fellow students -- a not so subtle commentary on society at large.
       Contemporary readers might find Jurek's emotional distance from the act, the murder of the only close family member he has left, and a woman who loves him deeply, disturbing. In fact, 'Auntie' is a literally disembodied figure: for Jurek, the corpse has nothing to do with her, and there is essentially nothing of Auntie in it. He treats the corpse figuratively -- which can sometimes be hard to see as he works away at making it more easily disposable.
       Ultimately, too, Killing Auntie turns out to be a slightly different tale than Bursa had us believe most of the way, making the novel as a whole entirely more palatable, and justifying why there's little of the morality-tale to it.
       Killing Auntie is an unsettling tale of disaffected youth, and the mix of black, dry humor and blasé attitude towards the heinous crime can be a bit hard to swallow, but there's considerable charm to Bursa's clever variation on the story of youth seeking purpose too. A nicely off-beat little novel. - M.A.Orthofer

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.

Yesterday evening, the 7th edition of the Wiz-Art festival ended in Lviv. The Grand Prix for the best film of the international competition went to "Killing Auntie" by Mateusz Głowacki.
It is the first, long-awaited award for the film by Głowacki, which so far has been shown at the festivals Busan, Premiers Plans, Konrad Wolf ISFF to list just a few.   "Killing Auntie", which had its world première at the 53rd Krakow Film Festival, is a diploma film by Głowacki, who graduated in Film Directing from the Faculty of Radio and Television at the University of Silesia in Katowice. 
23 year-old Jurek lives with his aunt, who puts her entire heart into ensuring that the boy does not lack anything.  Tired by stability and safety of his life under the continuous care of the aunt, the boy decides to change his fate. To silence the constant talk of the aunt, he reaches for a hammer... Made on the basis of an unfinished novel by Andrzej Bursa, "Killing Auntie", full of discrete absurdity and black humour, is a story about  the need for liberation.
The film by Głowacki was the only Polish film in the festival's competition. On giving the Grand Prix to "Killing Auntie", the jury explained the verdict in the following way: "Killing Auntie" performs a perfect balance between an unrealistic story and the convincing way of telling it. Although "Killing Auntie" has very good directing, editing and comic timing, it is difficult to describe. You just have to watch it! The jury consisted of Gunhild Enger (Norwegian director), Kateryna Gornostai (Ukrainian director) and Szymon Stemplewski (the director of the Short Waves festival). In this year's competition, 15 films were shown. -


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