The Polish writer Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki spent several years in Iceland before moving to his current home of Austria. His Lullaby for a Hanged Man is partly his own story and partly that of two men he met in Iceland: the eccentric Croat Boro and Szymon Kuran, the Polish violinist, jazz musician and composer. They are all three outsiders and immigrants, lonely, poor and lost; Boro and Szymon suffer mental illness. But they are also positive and creative and find fulfilment in art.
The main focus of the book is Kuran, a real person, who, like Klimko-Dobrzaniecki, spent much of his life in Iceland. Finally, after struggling bravely with his mental illness, Kuran surrenders to it, lending the book it’s sad title.
This novella is a quiet and tender requiem written for a friend, sung over his grave, a joyous remembering of his life. It is also an attempt to capture and explain the musician’s exceptional personality, equally dominated by art and by madness. The author skilfully shows the blurry line between what is perceived as normal and what falls below it.
Lullaby for a Hanged Man consists of a series of scenes and captured images. There is a simplicity to Klimko-Dobrzaniecki’s writing, based on clearly defined opposites – life and death, love and loneliness – but has great honesty and immense power. It moved me to tears. That’s Klimko-Dobrzaniecki’s trademark: a brilliant storyteller who can turn what may seem unassuming events into captivating bitter-sweet stories where tragedy is mixed with irony and sadness tamed by laughter. And Julia and Peter Sherwood’s English translation perfectly captures the melody and beauty of the Polish original. This is a truly beautiful book about love, friendship, longing, dreams and madness.
By Anna Blasiak
Lullaby for a Hanged Man
By Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
Translated from the Polish by Julia and Peter Sherwood
Published by Calypso Editions
Anna Blasiak helps run the European Literature Network. She translated over 30 books from English into Polish and some fiction from Polish into English (as Anna Hyde). She worked in museums and a radio station, wrote on art, film and theatre.
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