Saturday, May 27, 2006

This review originally appeared in Rain Taxi. I reprint it in hopes of sparking interest in an excellent, underappreciated (here in the States) writer...

farewells to plasma
Natasza Goerke
Translated by W. Martin
Twisted Spoon Press 2001

Halfway through Polish writer Natasza Goerke’s collection of stories, farewells to plasma, a toenail blithely asserts that “monstrosity is an important issue.” Immersed in Goerke’s wonderfully disconcerting world of marriageable she-bears, writers who choke to death on egg yolks, marriages by correspondence, withering flowers, ballooning knees, a charming couple called the Zeroes, the reader doesn’t miss a beat and wants to hear more. The toenail, shut up inside a locket, obliges. It holds forth on plagues, it blushes, it scratches its head. It is a key and plausible element in Goerke’s through-the-cracked-looking-glass sensibility, an instance of 3-D synecdoche that blares absence and bespeaks troubled love: key themes in Goerke’s universe. She ends the story, “Zoom”, with the following:

So what to do with them all? If what keeps them apart is what joins them together, they still won’t be able to get close to each other.
But they won’t be able to get away from each other either.

Love and absence are at the heart of farewells to plasma, but they are not alone: Goerke’s palette is too broad, her energies too various for the collection to be so easily pigeon-holed. Goerke writes with verve on all shape and variety of topics. Her characters are travellers, writers, fortune tellers, spiritual seekers, masochists, talking shadows. They are concerned with the difficulties of reality, of communication, of self assertion. The fictional matrices they are conjured up in tend to be short, oddly and cleverly crafted, both pragmatic and dreamy, and crackling with energy. The result is an absurdist-inflected brand of magical realism, akin in its fusion of homegrown and international, often Western, often American, culture and concerns, to that set out in the shorter works of Haruki Murakami.

Part of the credit for the effectiveness of farewells to plasma, which is a representative selection from three of Goerke’s earlier collections, must go to its translator, W. Martin. He has turned the original Polish into pitch-perfect English, giving us a loose-limbed prose fully capable of handling Goerke’s typically complex, off-kilter blend of emotion, action and imagery as in the start of one of the longer stories in the collection, “dog”:

Clouds were blocking the sun, and Denisa, who was strolling along with all the grace of an open wound, picked up a stick off the ground and threw it as far as her strength would allow.

Goerke, who was born and raised in Poland, and currently resides in Germany, is widely considered in Europe to be one of the most exciting of the younger fiction writers working today. If enough people this side of the Atlantic get their hands on farewells to plasma, that sentiment will soon find itself shared.


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