Nine Hardcover – May 7 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Grim and harrowing, this novel by a deserter from the Polish army under communism paints a vivid and disturbing picture of contemporary life in Poland. Pawel, a young man in debt to loan sharks, wakes up one morning to a trashed apartment. As Pawel makes his way around Warsaw, trying to borrow money from Bolek, a drug dealer, and Jacek, his addict friend, Stasiuk chronicles their endless circuits around a Warsaw in the grip of booming cutthroat capitalism. Pawel, Jacek, Bolek and Bolek's henchman, Iron Man, are pursued by thugs and leave chaos in their wake, which has dire consequences for their women friends Beata, Syl and Zosia. Hobbled by the fast pace and gadget trappings of modern life, the characters are unable to express themselves, to connect with one another or to fully understand much of what they're doing. The seedy Warsaw criminal underground underscores Stasiuk's bleak motif, creating a tone that is unmistakably European and distinctly influenced by Poland's former communist regime. The novel, impressively translated by Johnston, offers a sobering vision of the new face of central Europe in a narrative that is at once hallucinatory, haunting and abject. (May)
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There is a plot skulking somewhere within Stasiuk's gloomy third novel--most likely a noirish drama populated by palookas, losers, and dames--but it's evident only in glimpses as fragmented and ambiguous as faded, wrinkled Polaroids. The narrative follows the wanderings of three Warsaw residents: Pawey, a salesman hounded by loan sharks; Jacek, an addict scrambling for the next score; and Bolek, a drug dealer wallowing in meaningless wealth. Suffocated by boredom, dread, and a dull, persistent horniness, the men kill their hours traversing the bleak, foggy city in endless successions of buses, trams, and cars. They occasionally pause to attempt clumsy communication with girlfriends, strangers, pets, or adversaries before boarding the next 17 or 29. As Stasiuk gradually gathers ever more peripheral characters into his patient and sympathetic arms, it becomes increasingly apparent that each one of these disengaged drifters is a supporting character in search of a protagonist--and that's the point. Nine stinks like cheap cigarettes and tastes like a busted lip but is tenderly observant and elegantly translated from the Polish. Daniel Krause
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Pawel is one of many people, who after the transition were lured by the prospect of earning some money in their own business, which was finally allowed. He borrowed a lot of money from some dubious characters to opn a small store with underwear, and now he is in trouble. He visits his old friends and acquaintances, trying to borrow the sum, at the same time running away from the thugs sent by his creditors.
Pawel wanders around Warsaw, using public transportation most of the time (occasionally a car); looking through the bas of streetcar window, he thinks about the past and sees the changes (or lack of changes) in the city. This is the side of Warsaw that was unknown (or unfamiliar: of course somehow in the corner of my mind I knew that it existed) to me when I lived there (I was at the university at the same time, and had lived in Warsaw all my life): Pawel sees mostly poverty, housing projects or dilapidated old huts on in the suburbs, dirt, the drug addicts and prostitutes at the Central Station, illegal Vietnamese streetsellers...
Stasiuk describes the dark side of Warsaw very suggestively, using strong imaging and words, his prose is very masculine (I usually try to avoid such classifications, but here it is hard to avoid). The atmosphere of the novel is heavy, depressing, with many excellent observations, so that the city life during this transition period can be perfectly reconstructed. Unfortunately, this is all there is. The whole novel is a snapshot of the daily life, and a very good snapshot, but the plot does not really get anywhere, it is only a description of a few days from a life of Pawel and some other characters to who he is connected more or less loosely. All the threads (which are also not very explicitly shown, rather hinted upon) lead nowhere, only giving a general sense of danger and hopelessness. For me, this is a weakness of this book, especially if it is supposed to be a novel. I like Stasiuk's more recent books, in which he focuses on his impressions from travels around Eastern Europe, much better - he is perfects at catching the specific climate of small, forgotten places and at telling stories of ordinary people. "Nine" is not Stasiuk's best, but it gives hope for more translations into English (for now, of what was translated, I recommend "Tales of Galicia").