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Dreams and Stones [Hardcover]

Magdalena Tulli , Bill Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

March 15 2004

Hailed as one of the most brilliant contributions to the literature of Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism, Dreams and Stones won the prestigious Koscielski Foundation Prize in Poland in 1995. Telling the story of the growth of a great city, Tulli relates its history by entering the lives of the stones from which the buildings and monuments are constructed, as well as the dreams of people and objects interwoven with the city’s history. Revealing the inner lives of buildings, mirrors and news-paper -photographs, she explores the design of the city, its growth and its workings. Dismantling the city piece by piece, Tulli reveals a very different metaphysical landscape lying, literally, beneath and around it.


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Powerful imagery caught in a sinewy, architectural, elegaic prose. A inner-outer dance of cityscape with the taut emotion, terror and psyche of the ‘human.’ Where are we? What magical zone of dream and stone? We are inhabitants of the wild, brilliant imagination of Magdalena Tulli. This book is great pleasure to read: deeply provoc- ative, intuitive, haunting. ‘I hunt among stones’ was Charles Olson’s probing line, a mission manifested here with full beauty and finesse. And rendered from Polish to English in an inspired translation by Bill Johnston. —Anne Waldman

Magdalena Tulli reveals herself to be the only true disciple of Bruno Schulz. —Jan Gondowicz, Nowe Ksiazki

Dreams and Stones, by the Polish writer Magdalena Tulli, is a postmodernist masterpiece of lyrical prose that defies generic definition and is rife with paradox and metaphor. —Kirsten Lodge, Slavic and East European Journal

A beautifully flowing translation. Johnston aptly captures the dreamy as well as the stark quality of the original. —Danuta Borchardt

Dreams and Stones is a startling, beautiful, powerful achievement. It calls the conventional genres of literature into question as its central image and metaphor, 'the tree of the world', grows, spreads and deepens. It does away with the persistent superstition of humanity's distinction from 'nature'. The originality of the writing is not lessened by representing a family tree that includes Michaud, Kafka, Calvino, and Saramago. It is a work to welcome and return to, and the translation is vibrant and graceful. —W.S. Merwin

About the Author

Magdalena Tulli was born in 1955. "In Red" (Wczerwieni, 1998), her second book, also received great critical acclaim in Poland and elsewhere. Tulli lives in Warsaw, where she works as a psychologist and translator. Johnston is Director of the Polish Studies Center at Indiana University. His translations include Gustaw Herling's The Noonday Cemetery and Other Stories (New Directions, 2003), Jerzy Pilch's His Current Woman (Grove, 2002), and Stefan Zeromski's The Faithful River (Northwestern, 1999). In 2005, he won an ASTEEL translation prize for Tulli's Dreams and Stones.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THE TREE OF THE WORLD, LIKE EVERY OTHER TREE, at the beginning of the season of vegetation puts out tiny delicate golden leaves which with time acquire a dark green hue and a silvery sheen. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars inscrutable silence of Stone . . . May 31 2004
Format:Hardcover
translated from the Polish to English by Bill Johnston
This slim volume, filled with vivid imagery and metaphor held, for me, a poetic inspiration on nearly every page. It is about the birth, growth and decay of a city, or all cities. At the same time, less about some unnamed city as about human idealism and dreams -- resignation and denial -- and finally the eureka of realization and understanding or the epiphanies a person can
eventually reach. Hauntingly entwined in the whole story is the inscrutable silence of Stone . . . hence the title.
On one level the symbolic language and imagery might be enjoyed for the art of writing itself, but on various other levels, it might be speaking of politics, religion, faith, doubt and
disillusionment. It is a beautiful book. I was about to cite some lines, but no single quotation seems adequate outside the whole. However, since I've been thinking this labor day weekend
about loved ones gone, and some that are suffering, I will share a tiny passage that I liked about "returning home."
". . . Drowning sailors do not remember which port they are headed for. Relinquishing unrealistic goals, they give themselves entirely to the waves and know relief. One way or another all of them -- including those who have already come to rest on the bottom -- will return safely
home." Here one might substitute the "waves" for "God." The book can probably be read by most people in a single sitting, though I took time reading it and putting it down and reading
more later, savoring the whole vision.
I forgot to mention that, given the author's home country, much of it was probably an evaluation commentary or critique) of the dream and ultimate failure of the communist system imposed on
Poland and other central and Eastern European countries and communities.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life will always be imperfect, but dreams they can be what you make of them May 30 2008
By Bethany L. Canfield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Architecture, dreams, life, lines and asphalt is where Magdalena Tulli takes the readers of Dreams and Stones. Along for the ride of a city, where the stones of reality will fall, but only the dreams survive. Life will always be imperfect, but dreams they can be what you make of them.

Magdalena Tulli could take the most hideously boring subject and write beautiful sentences. I adore her writing, it is deep, intense and ambiguous. She dares to go places that her readers may not be able to follow, yet she fear not as she takes them there. Dreams and Stones is a balance between the mystical dream world and the harsh reality of life. Life is too real, dreams are too far gone. I could drool over this book, there are certain key sentences which I will share, that might as well be screaming "I CAN'T BELIEVE NO ONE HAS WRITTEN ME YET!!!!", but she does, and does it with ease and a tenderness that willingly ushers the reader into a new place.

In saying all that, I can come clean and say that a lot of her writing was very deep for me, or just too hard for me to grasp. I love strange and weird and unsettling, however I am not fully able to comprehend what was hard for me about this book. Tulli's writing is incredible, yet many times I just had no idea where she had taken me and what she was writing about. I felt as though it were poetry in form of prose, which would make sense because so much of poetry is how it speaks to the individual, therefore making poetry on the hard-to-understand side sometimes. Throughout the book I was rocked out of my seat with her writing, others I was only holding on by a molecule. It could be that it was too philosophical for me, I am not sure.

The writing, it is heaven though, here are two quotes from the book:

Eventually the day came when the sofas were chopped up for firewood; a stray shell released the letters from their drawers. Paper turned to ashes, windowpanes shattered, door frames and tiled stoves were smashed to pieces. But this too failed to stop the pain. For pain does not belong to those who experience it but rather they belong to it (p. 71).

But their brightness always arises from darkness and their beauty from horror. The tangle of dreams, untouched by pruning shears, fills the whole world; it can even be said that it is the world and that the inhabitants of the city - along with their houses, their beds, their blankets, their recollections and their unanswerable questions- are only necessary for the dreams to be dreamed.
Only for dreams to be dreamed? What about maintaining order in the world? What about polishing floors, making repairs? Surely the reason why people sleep at night is to gather strength for the labors of the day? (p. 78).
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars inscrutable silence of Stone . . . May 31 2004
By John E. Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
translated from the Polish to English by Bill Johnston
This slim volume, filled with vivid imagery and metaphor held, for me, a poetic inspiration on nearly every page. It is about the birth, growth and decay of a city, or all cities. At the same time, less about some unnamed city as about human idealism and dreams -- resignation and denial -- and finally the eureka of realization and understanding or the epiphanies a person can
eventually reach. Hauntingly entwined in the whole story is the inscrutable silence of Stone . . . hence the title.
On one level the symbolic language and imagery might be enjoyed for the art of writing itself, but on various other levels, it might be speaking of politics, religion, faith, doubt and
disillusionment. It is a beautiful book. I was about to cite some lines, but no single quotation seems adequate outside the whole. However, since I've been thinking this labor day weekend
about loved ones gone, and some that are suffering, I will share a tiny passage that I liked about "returning home."
". . . Drowning sailors do not remember which port they are headed for. Relinquishing unrealistic goals, they give themselves entirely to the waves and know relief. One way or another all of them -- including those who have already come to rest on the bottom -- will return safely
home." Here one might substitute the "waves" for "God." The book can probably be read by most people in a single sitting, though I took time reading it and putting it down and reading
more later, savoring the whole vision.
I forgot to mention that, given the author's home country, much of it was probably an evaluation commentary or critique) of the dream and ultimate failure of the communist system imposed on
Poland and other central and Eastern European countries and communities.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I did not enjoy this book - very grateful it's short! Nov. 9 2010
By Terry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book for a book club I recently joined and was extremely disappointed in it. The publisher's blurb was quite intriguing. Unfortunately, the book was not. This genre really requires the reader to have a taste for abstract prose. For those with this taste, the book is probably as good as it's lauded to be. There are no characters, no dialog, really no plot. I found it tedious to read and will be selling my still lovely, pristine copy in the very near future. (I confess, though, I really don't like James Joyce's long works either. Mercifully, Tulli's book is MUCH shorter than Joyce, though I put them in the same category of unreadable rambling.)
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