Wiola is growing up. We are still growing up in parallel. She is a student in Poland exactly when I am a student in Poland, the academic session of 1995/1996. Except I’m in Warsaw for a year of my degree, a thousand miles from the city where I was born, and she’s in Częstochowa, the nearest city to her home village (and the last time I was there was 1990, in the photo). Except I get into an akademik (student halls – mine was a posh one for international and doctoral students that used to be a Party hotel) – and she doesn’t, because she lives too close to the university, but she’s still too far to commute every day.
So she starts off with nowhere to live. She is looking for accommodation, which turns out to have to be plural, because none of it is any good for very long.
These were the days when you could still get a plug-in element, like you have inside a kettle, that you could use to do your own cooking in a hotel room. In Wiola’s room, in what used to be a workers’ hotel, she doesn’t even have that, so she gets pot noodle and tea water from the reception. Her fellow residents include a sausage dog called Adele and some Russian twins with a Past. It all gets rather interesting rather quickly…
And she has to move on.
At the train station on New Years’ Eve, she meets a nun who gathers her up and she is transported what feels like several centuries back in time, into life in a convent. Her fellow residents include a sister who mistakes her for her own little sister – during the Nazi occupation. How long can she stay with the nuns, and where will she go next?
If you enjoyed Eliza Marciniak’s translation of Wioletta Greg’s childhood tales, Swallowing Mercury, you’ll want to know what a slightly older Wiola sounds like in a new English voice. Jennifer Croft’s translation of Stancje, Accommodations, is out today, published by the appropriately named Transit Books. After the runaway success of her translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, you know it’s going to be good.