#RivetingReviews: Anna Blasiak reviews THINGS I DIDN’T THROW OUT by Marcin Wicha

Most of us have had or will have to deal with a situation such as the one described in Wicha’s book: going through things that someone dear to us has left behind. The closer and more intimate our relationship with the departed person, the harder it is – each object seems laden with memories, and each demands to be kept as such: as the receptacle, the holder of those memories. And the fact that the memories cannot be replaced by new ones makes the objects even more precious. Throwing out anything takes such effort. 

This process is part of coming to terms with a loved one’s death, which is what Wicha’s book is about: it’s the course his mother set him on.

‘“But you won’t die?” I asked her once.

“I will. Everyone dies.”

“But you won’t?”

“I will, but only when you don’t need me any more.”

I was five, and at first considered this answer satisfactory. Negotiations around death are not easy. I achieved what was possible within the current circumstances, as trade unionists say. I didn’t understand until later that this was her condition. “Only when you don’t need me any more.” Unneeded, she languished. One hundred per cent Jewish mother.’

Marcin Wicha’s book was written after the death of his mother and describes the process of going through the contents of his dead parents’ flat, taking each object, each book, each pen or pencil, each memory, in hand; reminiscing, deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, saying goodbye to his mother by saying goodbye to her things. Even though this process has obvious sadness built into it, Wicha’s writing is lively and full of wit and humour, sometimes surprisingly so. Wicha’s memories of his parents are vivid and rich, and devoid of even the tiniest sprinkling of mawkishness. And thank goodness for that. I, for one, found this refreshing.

Another invigorating aspect of this book is Wicha’s honesty and directness. He writes about things that are often – especially in Poland and especially in the current political climate – swept under the carpet or shrouded in euphemisms. In his candour he follows the example of his mother, whom he calls an ‘oversensitive Semitic rhinoceros’. She always refused to hide her own Jewishness and prided herself on saying things as they were, regardless of who she was talking to.

‘She also had what respectable compatriots called “ahem”. Let me repeat: “respectable”. Less respectable ones had no difficulty with pronunciation.

There was something disconcerting about the ostentation of her features. She had the, ahem, look. The look of someone of, ahem, descent. What descent? Ahem. Upf. […]

“I’m an old Jewess now,” she said one day in 1984. In fact, she was younger then than I am today. But yes. She had ahem. Ahem for days.’

I remember reading this book for the first time, in the original Polish, two and a half years ago, while sitting on a beach in Cuba. I was constantly switching between sadness and laughter, and I couldn’t stop myself reading out loud this or that anecdote to my Polish-speaking family; the need to share was so strong, I couldn’t resist it.

Wicha writes with restraint, has a good eye and ear for language, and his prose has a beautiful rhythm. This slim book consists of vignettes sketched with a few, very precise lines, the writing never too verbose, consistently free of cliché or banality. The little scenes or memories often end suddenly and the author switches to the next one, in doing so reconstructing the way memory works. After all, our minds like to wander, go on tangents, branch out, follow side tracks …

Marta Dziurosz’s translation skilfully captures all the flavours of the original. And let me just add that it was a doubly demanding job, because the reality Wicha describes – the Poland of his parents’ times and his own childhood – is rich in time- and place-specific details; always a challenge when bringing such a story to a different language.

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak


by Marcin Wicha

Translated from Polish by Marta Dziurosz

Published by Daunt Books (2021)

August 2021 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.

Anna Blasiak is a poet, writer and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books, as is Lili. Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak. annablasiak.com.

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE BOOK OF VENICE. A CITY IN SHORT FICTION edited by Orsola Casagrande

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of IN MEMORY OF MEMORY by Maria Stepanova

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of CITY OF SANDCASTLES by Hagar Peeters

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NIGHT TRUCK DRIVER by Marcin Świetlicki


Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HANA by Alena Mornštajnová

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NO TIME LIKE NOW by Andrei Codrescu

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of UNDER CLOUDED SKIES and BEAUREGARD / PENSÉES SOUS LES NUAGES et BEAUREGARD by Philippe Jaccottet

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of BITTER GRASS by Gëzim Hajdari

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of TRACING THE UNSPOKEN by Milan Šelj

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of PIXEL by Krisztina Tóth

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of BLUEPRINT by Theresia Enzensberger

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of TIDAL EVENTS. SELECTED POEMS by Mária Ferenčuhová

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HAVING NEVER MET by Inga Pizāne

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of GAMES WITH GRETA & OTHER STORIES by Suzana Tratnik

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HYDRA’S HEADS by Nora Gomringer

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of WHATEVER THE NAME by Pierre Lepori

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GALLOPING HOUR: FRENCH POEMS by Alejandra Pizarnik

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of CARAVAN LULLABIES by Ilzė Butkutė

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of SEVEN STONES by Vénus Khoury-Ghata

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GREEN CROW by Krīstine Ulberga

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GREAT PLAN B by Justyna Bargielska

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NIEWAŻKOŚĆ by Julia Fiedorczuk

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE ANGELS DIE by Yasmina Khadra

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of LULLABY FOR A HANGED MAN by Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of QUIET FLOWS THE UNA by Faruk Šehić

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of DYGOT by Jakub Małecki

Category: ReviewsAugust 2021


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *