Is this an adventure novel, war memoir, seven short stories, or one of those new approaches to history through objects? It’s all that and more.
The real protagonist is not a person, but a map.
Do you know Rembrandt van Rijn’s famous etching of Faust (above)? It’s in the MET museum in New York and dates from 1652. But did you hear that Rembrandt made an earlier sketch of the same image, in which Dr Faustus is examining a mysterious map that opens the gates to hell?
Perhaps that’s just a story. In the story, the 15th-century map passes from hand to hand across Europe and across five centuries, in secret. The people that hold it, or even glimpse it, might soon end up dead. There’s violence and male cruelty in this book – perpetrated by medical doctors, the Inquisition, in the Shoah, under Communism. At first the narrative is bewildering, if not frustrating – contexts and tensions switch from one paragraph to the next. How do all these stories fit together? Who knows whom? When and where did they meet?
The form is fascinating, the language lovely, and the interconnections intriguing. Barbara Sadurska was not aiming to write a linear story with rounded characters and a plot that ties up neatly at the end, so if that is what you look for in a novel, you won’t find it here. But you will find something unique, and Wydawnictwo Nisza (cover left below) have produced a beautiful physical book.
Mapa, Sadurska’s first novel, was awarded the Gombrowicz Literature Prize in 2020. I can’t wait for Kate Webster’s English translation, the Map, to be published by Terra Librorum (cover right above) this autumn. It’s on the culture.pl watchlist of Polish books coming out in English translation in 2021. If you’re looking for books to read or order for Women in Translation Month 2021, start here.