Zofia Nalkowska - A glittering example of the modernist novel. The narrator, a polish woman, profiles a motley collection of visitors to the village and patients at the sanatorium and their interactions with each other



Zofia Nałkowska's Choucas novel
Zofia Nalkowska, Choucas, Trans. by Ursula Phillips, Northern Illinois University Press, 2014.




The novel in Europe in the early 20th century took a decidedly inward turn, and Choucas (1927) is an intriguing example of the modernist psychological tradition. Its author, Zofia Nalkowska (1884–1954), was a celebrated Polish novelist and playwright. She rose to prominence in interwar Poland and was one of a group of early feminist writers that included Pola Gojawiczynska, Maria Dabrowska, and Maria Kuncewiczowa. 

Choucas is set in the Swiss Alps in the mid-1920s in a sanatoria village near Lake Geneva. The book has an international focus, and the narrator, a polish woman, profiles a motley collection of visitors to the village and patients at the sanatorium and their interactions with each other. Among these she encounters Armenian survivors of the 1915–16 genocide who were given refuge in Switzerland. The characters are all from different countries and each represents a distinct political or religious point of view. The title is derived from the French word for a species of bird native to this region of Switzerland. Nalkowska was known for her love of nature and animals, and the birds have symbolic significance for the characters themselves. The choucas fly down from the mountain passes seeking food, while some of the characters in the novel wander around the sanatorium seeking philosophical truths.


A glittering example of the modernist novel, Zofia Nałkowska's Choucas is translated here for the first time. Named after a species of blackbird native to the novel's setting in the Swiss alps, Nałkowska's tale profiles a motley collection of patients inhabiting a sanatorium. Somewhat allegorical in nature, each character hails from a different country and each espouses a distinct political viewpoint. The tension builds as each seeks philosophical truths from within the sanatorium's grounds.
In Choucas, there is a strong autobiographical element to the story, as Nałkowska had stayed in a sanatorium in Leysin, Switzerland, with her husband in 1925. A comparison may also be drawn with the classic novel by Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924), which has similar themes. The book delineates a fascinating time period, and the author's concise fictional technique is strikingly innovative and groundbreaking. - www.polishculture.org.uk/literature/books/news/article/choucas-by-zofia-nalkowska-2337.html




In Choucas, there is a strong autobiographical element to the story, as Nalkowska had stayed in a sanatorium in Leysin, Switzerland, with her husband in 1925. A comparison may also be drawn with the classic novel by Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924), which has similar themes. The book delineates a fascinating time period, and the author’s concise fictional technique is strikingly innovative and groundbreaking. Choucas is a fine example of early modernist literature and is translated for the first time into English for a new generation of readers.



“[A] subtle and satisfying translation.”—The Times Literary Supplement



“This is a welcome translation of one of the better-known Polish modernist novels, which reveals a supreme depth about intersubjective relations, while sustaining insight into the characters mostly through their words and gestures. The generally non-intruding and nonspeculative aspect of the narrator, who does not claim any responsibility and relies on her seemingly superficial observations, brings to mind the behavorist method as the main representation of the character’s psychology.”
Bozena Shallcross



“The characters’ stories and their views on specific nations lead Nalkowska to explore the psychological sources of nationalism. Their nationalism is not ideological or rooted in political doctrine. It is, rather, a mishmash of stereotypical images of other nations, as well as emotional schemata that are not grounded in personal experience. Even as they suffer from deadly diseases, the characters fail to realize that their nationalism is an affliction too.”—Wlodzimierz Bolecki




Zofia Nałkowska - writer, journalist, playwright, diarist (1884-1954) rose to prominence in the interwar years, serving as an executive member of the Polish Academy of Literature. Along with Pola Gojawiczyńska and Maria Kuncewiczowa, she was part of a core group of early feminist writers. Ursula Phillips new translation is sure to help introduce Zofia Nałkowska to a new generation of readers and help raise her profile once again.
Read Nałkowska's extended and incredibly rich biography on culture.pl


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