By Natalia Zalega
AUC’s 900 students come from more than 60 countries. Natalia Zalega has talked to several of them, all coming from different parts of the world, and asked them to share a book that reminds them of a broadly defined home. A piece of literature that they think is representative of their country. The conversations involve the importance of language, nature, history, political situation, and personal family stories. Join the journey through AUC’s cultural diversity via the intimate conversations about literature. Today: Second-year Humanities student Zofia Majchrzak from Poland shares her story about the book “Microtics” (original title: Mikrotyki) by Paweł Sołtys.
“Firstly, I feel mostly, as a local citizen, I am most connected to the city I was born in – Warsaw. Secondly, my identity has been influenced by living in Europe. Thus, I would say, I am a ‘Warszawiak’ and a European citizen.”Zofia majchrzak
“I chose a book that is titled “Mikrotyki”, which could be translated to “Microtics”. It is a combination of two words, micro, and narcotics. It is a collection of short stories. I would describe it as a collection of postcards from Warsaw. However, they do not depict the landmarks of the city, but rather more obscured and unknown areas of the landscape. The snippets of daily life on the outscores and margins of Warsaw. It includes many descriptions of the city and its inhabitants, captured in an everyday setting, sometimes even mundane. The characters are people sitting at the parks, workers at the hairdresser store, shop ladies selling groceries, and bus drivers – normal people who you would probably not find interesting.
It is a book that is founded on the practice of overhearing other people’s conversations. You can almost imagine the author listening in on people and then telling their stories. Through this, he demonstrates the landscape of Warsaw.
When you read a book that is set in the place that you live in, you recognise not only the places that you visit, but also you recognise the people, even though you do not know them, and even though they may not exist. When you walk through Warsaw, you can see that there is a certain type of people.
The most important thing to me in this book is the language. It is a real masterpiece in terms of the way it uses different tools that the Polish language offers. When you read it out loud it is very lyrical, even musical. It has a certain rhythm that changes with the story. It is also very rich in references to other texts from Polish culture, poems, urban legends. It is very much situated within the context of Polish literary history, even though it does not seem erudite. It doesn’t impose itself. The author is not trying to put everything that he read into it. No. But if you do have all these texts in the back of your mind you realise while you read how much is referenced. It is very non intrusive in a way.
For me, the most important part of Polish history is the transformation from communism to what we have now. It is captured well in the book; you can see it in the changing buildings. I think that the whole book is a metaphor for transformation in both Warsaw and Poland. It is about melancholy and a sense of longing. Longing for the Poland that is gone, Warsaw that is in constant transformation. But also, for people who go missing in the new reality and the experiences of closeness that go unnoticed in the modern world. It is all about the tension between the present and the past. The history that is still alive and the modernity that creeps in.
I feel like it would be wrong if I would say that I can relate to one of the characters. Even though the characters in the book live in the same city, I live in a very different reality. They are from a different social class, and they experience the same city in a different way. Exactly for this reason this book is so special. It allows for encounters that would not be possible in real life. To get into the conversation with all these people whom you pass by, but you never have a chance to talk to, apart from a programmed situation, for example when you are buying something.
My first impression of the book was that it is a compilation of sentences. You could read each sentence out loud, and every sentence makes sense on its own as a text. Sometimes I reread some chapters without purpose.
When I left Warsaw, my perception of the city changed. As a reflection of the city, my perception of the book changed as well. It captures a feeling of something being lost that cannot be gained back. I related to that when I was in Warsaw. But now I am here at AUC, and I don’t know if I am ever going back, that sense has been cemented and emphasised. This adds another meaning to me. It is not only Warsaw that is being lost, because of change, but also Warsaw that might be lost for me.”
Editor’s note: This article is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was written, edited, and fact-checked by students of the journalism course. Some content may have been altered by The Herring’s editors for clarity and style.
Find the first two parts of the series here: