Read A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Jerzy Pilch David Frick Online


A comic gem, Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities takes place in 1963, in the latter days of the Polish post-Stalinist “thaw.” The narrator, Jerzyk (“little Jerzy”), is a teenager who is keenly interested in his father, a retired postal administrator, and his father’s closest friend, Mr. Trąba, a failed Lutheran clergyman, alcoholic, would-be Polish insurrectionist, anA comic gem, Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities takes place in 1963, in the latter days of the Polish post-Stalinist “thaw.” The narrator, Jerzyk (“little Jerzy”), is a teenager who is keenly interested in his father, a retired postal administrator, and his father’s closest friend, Mr. Trąba, a failed Lutheran clergyman, alcoholic, would-be Polish insurrectionist, and one of the wildest literary characters since Sterne’s Uncle Toby. One drunken afternoon, Mr. Trąba and the narrator’s nameless father decide to take charge of their lives and do one final good turn for humanity: travel to distant Warsaw and assassinate the de facto Polish head of state, First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Władysław Gomułka—assassinating Mao Tse-tung, after all, would be impractical. And they decide to involve Jerzyk in their scheme . . ....

Title : A Thousand Peaceful Cities
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781934824276
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 143 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

A Thousand Peaceful Cities Reviews

  • Antonomasia
    2018-12-04 03:39

    Reading about Jerzy Pilch a couple of years before reading his work, I thought he sounded like the Polish Martin Amis. They're around the same age; both very much part of their respective national literary establishments whilst also being ageing iconoclastic badboys; they often use characters named after themselves; there's plenty of drinking and general old-school blokeishness in their novels, and both have attracted a fair few negative online reviews in which some women characterise their work as being "for men". Having read this novella, I'll stick with the idea that Pilch and Amis are similar in status unless someone explains otherwise, but their styles of writing, whilst both seriocomic, aren't especially alike. Comparisons of Pilch's style to Bohumil Hrabal, on the other hand, make a lot of sense. (The only Hrabal I've read is Harlequin's Millions.) There's a similar feeling of glittering, gingerbread-spiced magic alongside laddishness, which, from the Anglo perspective seems an odd combination. But really, why should it? It probably only does so to us because Victorians separated these things into innocent and not, when they'd always previously coexisted in folk cultures. There are times in A Thousand Peaceful Cities, when the gingerbread-ness coincides with the narrator talking about his family, when the writing becomes reminiscent of Bruno Schulz, even richer and cosier than Hrabal - emphatically so in scenes which, like Schulz's writing, centre on the narrator's parents. (No coincidence, surely, that a major character is described as looking like Schulz.) Pilch's female characters often have a double existence: they are talked about in limited or dismissive terms by men, yet enough is said about some of them for it to be clear that they are also intelligent, unique, strong personalities like the male leads. The narrator appears to be reliable, but the conversation, as well as the story, has characteristics of that type of unreliable narration which skilfully shows more of the characters than the narrator's own view.This is a fairly strange book, and it's difficult to define why, because it also doesn't fit typical definitions of the weird and bizarre; it's not quite weird enough for that. It was occasionally engrossing, but a lot of it I couldn't get into for unfathomable reasons despite liking the style; reading on backlit screens whilst tired probably had something to do with that, but I've read other books that way and not been so restless. Especially in the first half, there were actual-LOL moments, but also times when it seemed that something, not so much line-by-line, but on the level of the whole plot and the approach to it, was lost in translation, or more fairly, culturally opaque. A Thousand Peaceful Cities was first published in 1997 and is set in 1963. The teenage narrator, Jerzyk - alongside writing, being sent to church activities, and staring at unattainable girls (who sometimes respond in leftfield ways, adding to the dreamlike / parallel world atmosphere) - gets pulled into a farcical scheme devised by his father and eccentric family friend Mr. Trąba, to assassinate the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Gomułka. They don't seem more than averagely opposed to Gomułka, although it's clear he's not a force for good: it's an odd moral universe where it just seems to them that this should be done, in the manner of a major DIY job or climbing a mountain. Maybe I have some lousy West European stereotype of writing about the Eastern Bloc and am confounded by this book because its flippancy doesn't fit conventional ideas of life under Soviet communism - the characters don't live in profound terror of informants and political arrests in every day life, never mind when they become treasonous plotters. These things do exist peripherally in their world, but aren't made to feel hugely oppressive and frightening. Also, not quite enough happens: the plot and characters have potential for a ridiculous Tom Sharpe-style romp, but events never quite hit full-on farce mode. There is also something a bit existential about it; maybe I'm too stuck on subgenres, but proper farce or proper existential sulk might have been more satisfying. Trąba's comic nature is signalled in the original with his silly name (I had a hunch it meant something, and looked it up) - a name whose translations also suggest that in Polish, there's room for a whole new set of jokes about a prominent US presidential candidate:Google Translations of trąba (noun)trumpet: trąbka, trąba, tuba, surma, tuba gramofonu, ryk słoniahorn: róg, klakson, rożek, syrena, trąba, rożek księżycaproboscis: trąba, kłujka, smoczek, trąbka, trąba słonia, trąbka owadaninny: ciamajda, głupek, fujara, trąbaThe English blurb sets high expectations for Trąba: one of the wildest literary characters since Sterne’s Uncle Toby. Tristram Shandy is one of the most significant gaps in my reading, so I can't really comment, though Steve Coogan's film adaptation at least gave a vague sense of him. Many of the most lively and engrossing scenes involve Trąba's tall stories, aphoristic pronouncements and crazy plans - whose effect and ridiculousness piles up over several pages, making them difficult to illustrate with quotes - but the book, in some indefinable way, didn't gel well enough for him to have the stature he presumably does for fans of the original. Still, less than 24 hours after finishing, this is already becoming one of those odd books that seems more fun in the remembering than it was in the reading: the bizarre scenes and comic intent stick, the sense of ploughing through not nearly so much.The novel is also, in background, about Polish Protestants (a mere 2% of the current population; couldn't find stats for the immediate post-Communist period, and these things wouldn't have been measured under the atheistic regime in the fifities & sixties). Most of it appears to be set in or near Pilch's hometown of Wisła, the only town in the country with a Protestant (Lutheran) majority. The novel's comedy and dreamlike quality, combined with lack of acquaintance with the denomination and environment meant that I had no idea how many of the church scenes played with known tropes, or where exactly the bounds of its comedy lay. There weren't really any similarities to CofE stereotypes, for instance, and any slight familiarity with twentieth-century European Lutherans comes from serious-minded Scandinavian films and books. (By contrast, I also read a story in Alejandro Zambra's My Documents last week, and although I know very little about Chile, the Catholic tropes were instantly recognisable.)This translation irked me with its inconsistency about character names: if there's a Tommie and a Jeremiah, why is Jerzyk not Georgie, for instance? Better to keep them all in the original language, something which seems to be done more often now. But stylistically it's nice, and does a good job of evoking other writers from the region, as translated by other people. Then there is the matter of the morphinistes upstairs; how very different they'd sound described as 'junkies', rather than this fin de siecle word that makes them into fascinating, ethereal beings. I'm curious what the original said, and how it sounded in its context, but several mentions of Baudelaire convinced me the effect might not be too different, not to mention descriptions like this: Nobody knew why the morphinistes needed that truly Babylonian blanket, which they lugged along with them, in addition to their swimsuits, baskets, and air mattresses. The wildest expanses of unbridled speculation opened up in our puritanical heads. The blanket was great and luxuriant, like the canopy of a deployed parachute, crimson on one side, gold on the other. Crimson and gold like the outside and inside of a royal mantle, like the shimmering surfaces of two holy rivers traversing an empire, crimson like blood and gold like a suntan. There was no such princely covering in the entire house...“No army in the world,” Mr. Trąba’s voice rose to a desperate pitch, “no army in the world has ever strapped such monstrous plunder to its saddle. Not even the victorious Red Army. By the way, Chief, do you remember how the victorious Red Army grazed in my yard toward the end of the war? Do you remember in what satins, brocades, and cloths of gold they were wrapped?” A Thousand Peaceful Cities was frustrating in that something enthralling usually seemed an inch beyond my grasp, but for the reader who does manage to grab that elusive essence, and the strange context, I suspect it could be very rewarding.

  • Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
    2018-12-01 05:34

    I was in the Hetmanska bookshop on the Krakow Rynek when this book sang out to me in that mysterious manner that some books do. The title had some haunting sorcery about it and the bumf on the cover was seductive; "A very gifted writer..." it said. I opened it at random and these sentences jumped out at me; "...When I grow up, I'm going to marry her."Jerzyk, first she would have to divorce her husband."I read the blurb on the back cover; "A comic gem..." I was hooked.The opening lived up to its promises: the morphinistes; the exceptionally cultured detachment of Russian troops who refused to deflower Mr Traba's neice; the irascible Mr Traba himself, constantly in his alcoholic haze; the formulation of an assassination plot that promises all sorts of mishaps and adventures, all indicated that what we have here is a surreal comedy in the vein of "Catch 22".But then I began to struggle. This is not always a light read and it appears to, occasionally, take diversions that break the apparent flow of... I don't quite know what word to use because there is a dry humour here, a tongue in cheek cynicism but also a hint of sorrow and lost youth. There are other times of lovely writing and of moments that bring a real smile to one's cheeks as one drifts amongst the Lutheran community here on the edges of Catholic Poland.I'm glad I read it because it did have its moments. There are moments when you get sucked into this world of insane conspiracy, bureaucracy and religious alcoholic stupor but there was one moment that really took me by surprise and made me realise that, despite being intellectually aware of the fact that it is set in the early sixties, it read more like the world of today... was that good or bad?

  • Lisa
    2018-12-02 03:26

    A Thousand Peaceful Cities is the droll story of an attempted assassination. Set in 1963 during the post-Stalin thaw, the novella is narrated by Jerzyk, a bemused teenager who wants to be a writer. He practises his craft by recording the bizarre conversations around him, writing so fast that sometimes he predicts the end of sentence before it’s uttered. The impossibility of anyone being able to do that alerts the reader that nothing in this narrative can be trusted and it’s a book to romp through without worrying about whether any of it approximates reality.Jerzyk is a close observer of his world, which includes his aloof and cynical father, and his father’s friend Mr. Trąba, an incorrigible alcoholic. Coming to the end of his life, Mr Trąba wants to do something of significance before he dies, so one vodka-soaked afternoon he hatches a plan to do something good for humanity: the assassination of the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Władysław Gomułka, the de facto leader of Poland (which back in the 1960s was still firmly under Soviet rule).Actually, Mr Trąba would really like to bump off Mao Tse-tung, but there are practical difficulties that can’t be resolved, even by a man of his ambition (or Jerzyk’s imagination).To read the rest of my review please visit

  • Adam
    2018-11-19 03:44

    A Thousand Peaceful Cities is composed largely of bizarre, disassociated episodes and manic monologues bursting with the strong flavor of Eastern European existentialism. And the translation is very good; there is wonderful rhythm in the prose. Unfortunately, if the novel builds toward any kind of coherent climax, I missed it. Still, it's all very entertaining, and I felt like I'd spent a few hours at the Mad Hatter's tea table.Consider the dangers of falling into a love affair with a "graphomaniac":"...but this woman with fluent mastery of the pen produced such quantities of records that the quantity itself was the main problem. One way or another, I had to reduce their monstrous number. I didn't have any doubt that sooner or later one of these scraps, which were lying about everywhere and flying out from every corner, would fall into my wife's hands. And that is just what happened. To tell the truth, it happened many times. Luckily, a significant portion of the writings of the woman with fluent mastry of the pen were hermetic writings, and, thanks to happy coincidence, on each occassion my wife came upon statements that were unclear, basically incomprehensible."

  • Jack Luminous
    2018-11-29 07:39

    Uhm, nie.

  • Monica Carter
    2018-11-19 05:42

    "The invention of stories about oneself is the duty and irresistible temptation of the true man. The made-up story is the song of his life and death. The story of the loser, the invented story of the loser, is the sign of the winner."Poland's Jerzy Pilch made me fall in lust with his talent when I read his novel, The Mighty Angel(translated first in English but originally written after A Thousand Peaceful Cities ). I anticipated this work to be just as strong and sardonic. A Thousand Peaceful Citiesfarms some of the same ground he traversed in The Mighty Angel , by creating another esoteric character whose plight is that of gifted alcoholic. Whereas Mighty Angel'smain character is an alcoholic named Jerzy(ahem), A Thousand Peaceful Citiesis narrated by a coming-of-age boy, Jerzyk(ahem, ahem), and his experience with his father and his father's best friend, Mr. Traba(aforementioned alcoholic). Little Jerzy's father, a retired postal worker, and Mr. Traba, a failed Lutheran clergyman, spend their days drinking and debating the politics of 1963 in post-Stalinist Poland. Although this novel has the incisive and farcical humor of his other effort, The Mighty Angel , it is overshadowed by the verbosity of some of the characters. Mr. Traba, convinced that his death is near, decides that his final service to mankind is to assassinate Wladyslaw Gomulka, the acting head of state who resides in Warsaw. Traba is all too aware of his alcoholism and explains to a local Commandant why it is urgent that they act on this plan:"One general and seven particular reasons," retorted Mr. Traba, and he began to count on his fingers. "First, cirrhosis of the liver; second, a bursting pancreas; third, severe inefficiency of the kidneys; fourth, a weakening heart; fifth, stomach ulcers; sixth, delirium tremors; seventh, and the simplest, choking on my own vomit. These are seven good reasons, not subject to falsification, each of which individually, and all of them together, are identically effective, and all of them," Mr. Traba raised his index finger decisively in the air, "are already prepared. The seven beasts are already in readiness, seven chimeras already lie waiting to jump. Yes," he bellowed suddenly, "the seven pillars of my death have already been erected!"This is typical Traba whirling dervish of a diatribe, that at times grow longer and more fevered with their own pathos and the reader pleads for reprieve. As vibrant a character as Traba is, his own blustery booze fueled grandiosity works against the wonderful voice of the teenage narrator who practices his dream to be a writer by writing down swatches of conversation and impressions. His voice counters Traba with its plaintive youth:The parchment map of the sky slowly took on life. Streams of deep blue air flowed across it Golden sand poured from the planets. Within the large constellations you could hear music. awoke in the middle of the night, and in the dark, gropingly, I recorded the word "occupation" in my notebook--in a moment someone would whisper it in the depths of the sleeping house.There is a minor cast of humorous and odd characters that enter into the story, somehow involved in the trio's plot to kill First Secretary Gomulka, and sometimes their stays are too short--as in 'the angel of my first love'--who meets Jerzyk one night and tells him what she knows of him:"In the depths of your green eyes, Jerzyk, you loafer, I can clearly see the land of laziness. I can see the golden hills where you will bask I can see the sofas of your many-honored snoozes. I can see the heaps of notebooks you will cover with writing. I can see a thousand peaceful cities where you will live from day to day, a thousand peaceful white cities of phlegmatic architecture and friendly climate. Torrid heat reigns from early morning. A streetcar, open on both sides, is making its way in green pastures. Oh, how sweet it will be, Jerzyk, to live in the heart of that life that is slowly waking bu always nodding off again before the final awakening."But overall, Jerzyk drags the plot along with fluid, captivating prose despite the bloated speeches of Traba which serve to provide comedic grist. I much preferred the distilled simplicity of The Mighty Angel , but A Thousand Peaceful Citiesis a farce of nature(sorry) that few writers could pull off, much less a farce set in post-Stalinist Poland while giving the reader a few things to laugh and cry about. I will say that I can only imagine the difficulty translating Pilch's different pitches of humor without sacrificing the narrative through line and David Frick's efforts are commendable. Pilch entertains, even if he falls too often under the spell of Traba's bombastic alcoholic rants.

  • Nina
    2018-11-29 04:42

    Okay. I wanted to like this. I want to be cool enough to like and "get" Eastern European existentialist literature, but I just don't. I was exasperated trying to piece together this disjointed, bubbly tale. I liked another reviewer's description of this as being at a mad hatter's tea party. For me, it was more like being at a teenager's party where all they're talking about is movie stars and who's married to whom, and I'm sitting there in the corner trying to glean something useful out of it but totally unable. I couldn't finish it and barely made it to page 62 (cutoff set by Nancy Pearl based on my age). Oh, and, really? It's supposed to be about a boy and his father going to murder a politician? How did I miss that? I know how.

  • Justin
    2018-11-25 04:20

    Very engaging premise, with a diversion-riddled narrative that at first is clumsy, then later absorbing, but in the last part predictable. Pilch's writing has a sort of peculiar dialogue-driven nature, which makes the job of translating the passages in a way that is both accurate and artful incredibly challenging. There were times where I felt like reading a paragraph took too much strain, and was tempted to blame the translator. But, since said translator is a full professor at Berkeley, that's probably not the right answer. I'll definitely read Pilch again, but probably not until I have a long plane ride and am in the frame of mind to get absorbed.

  • Ferris
    2018-11-14 04:35

    Think about this...."The invention of stories about oneself is the duty and irresistible temptation of the true man. The made-up story is the song of his life and death. The story of the loser, the invented story of the loser, is the sign of the winner." This is the primary driving belief, in my opinion, behind the story of the Chief, Jerzy, and Mr. Traba's plot to assassinate the communist leader of Poland in 1963. Did they do it? Did they fantasize about it as they fantasized about the French woman who whispered "mille....villes.....tranquille" in the ear of her lover (thousand....peaceful...cities...the title of the novel)? I will be pondering this novel for a while. Very good!

  • Chad Post
    2018-12-10 03:39

    DISCLAIMER: I am the publisher of the book and thus spent approximately two years reading and editing and working on it. So take my review with a grain of salt, or the understanding that I am deeply invested in this text and know it quite well. Also, I would really appreciate it if you would purchase this book, since it would benefit Open Letter directly.

  • Marion
    2018-11-12 05:36

    Set in 1963. Communism, religion and family play a large role in this short fiction (143 pages). Polish author; translated work. In the story, Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" is read annually and reference is made to a famous Polish tale "The Ugly Duchess" by Lion Feuchtwanga. "Ship of Fools" by Katherine Anne Porter is also mentioned. I've not read any of those works.

  • Kate Cunningham
    2018-12-02 00:32

    Reading this made me realize how little I know of Polish history - or of Poland. Still, it is a funny book that also had some really beautiful writing. E.g., the description of the mother and son after the father dies.

  • !Tæmbuŝu
    2018-11-16 07:19

    KOBOBOOKSReviewed by The Complete Review

  • Sally Anne
    2018-12-06 00:17

    There is some terrific writing in this book. I had trouble transcending the old-fashioned male view of women, but this was written about forty years ago. All in all, I'd say it is worth a read. A strange, antic novel with some outright humor and an interesting look at life in Soviet Poland.

  • Karl
    2018-11-27 05:38

    Pilch is a master. This is my third Pilch novel. Mr. Traba is perhaps the most memorable Pilch character to date. It's a great tilting at windmills story. The translation was divine. Thank you, David.

  • Eric
    2018-11-30 07:32

    I think that a lot of this is lost on me due to the translation. Comedy is hard in its native language, and I can only imagine much much harder in translation, but this came across to me as quirky at best.

  • Gwendolyn
    2018-12-04 03:29

    I felt that some of the humor was lost in translation, but still very entertaining.

  • Melisa
    2018-11-19 04:21

    Kirkus Reviews top 25 fiction

  • Theresa
    2018-11-11 07:36

    Somehow I related to both the old, drunk ex-priest and the teenage boy who puppy-dogs around with his father and said ex-priest. This I did not expect.

  • Ryan Snyder
    2018-11-30 23:32

    I need some recommendations