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The Mighty Angel Hardcover – Apr 15 2009
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A candid, caustic, intensely human depiction of alcoholism."Kirkus
"The modern literary traditionin particular, the Lost Generation writers and their contemporarieshas done something curious in romanticizing the throes of alcoholism. Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald were all raging alcoholics and filled their novels with characters who acted likewise. But never before, and rarely today, does a novelist confront addiction so intimately and personally as Jerzy Pilch in his recently translated novel, The Mighty Angel.
A darkly humorous, yet undeniably serious, look into the life of a repeatedly relapsing alcoholic (also named Jerzy) and his recovering brethren in and out of rehab comes as no great surprise from one of Poland’s most celebrated writers. The Mighty Angel” cemented Pilch’s reputation, earning him Poland’s NIKE Literary Award in 2001. It was well-deserved. Pilch unflinchingly confronts the emotional reality of alcoholism and suggests a more sobering reality beyond sobriety."Will L. Fletcher, The Harvard Crimson
"Although Jerzy Pilch is acclaimed in his native Poland, "The Mighty Angel" is only the second of his books to be translated into English. In morbidly funny, hallucinatory prose reminiscent of Malcolm Lowry's, Pilch tells the story of a novelist, also named Jerzy, and his struggle with alcoholism. Jerzy has voluntarily committed himself 18 times to an alcohol rehabilitation center, but he always winds up stopping for a drink at the nearest pub, "The Mighty Angel," on his way home.
To better understand his own anguish, Jerzy tells the zanily bitter stories of his fellow alcoholics ... each of these men and women provide trenchant insight into the human predicament. But by far the novel's most powerful image is that of the titular angel, who enters Jerzy's life by turns to tempt and threaten and, at last, to save."Rebecca Oppenheimer, Book Bag
About the Author
Jerzy Pilch is one of Poland's most important contemporary writers. In addition to his long-running satirical newspaper column, Pilch has published several novels, and has been nominated for Poland's NIKE Literary Award four times; he finally won the Award in 2001 for The Mighty Angel.
Bill Johnston is Director of the Polish Studies Center at Indiana University and has translated works by Witold Gombrowicz, Magdalena Tulli, Wieslaw Mysliwski, and others. He won the Best Translated Book Award in 2012 and the inaugural Found in Translation Award in 2008.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This novel has voice. And a dark humor. It's tragic and hopeful at the same time. Maybe it's satirical, maybe it's not. In any case, I loved it, and I read it fairly slowly, savoring the language and the characters and the plot.
"You yourself calculated that in the course of the last twenty years you'd drunk two thousand three hundred and eighty bottles of vodka, two thousand two hundred and twenty bottles of wine, and two thousand two hundred and fifty bottles of beer..."
Jerzy is an alcoholic. He's also a lover of language, a writer because he's a writer as much as a drinker because he's a drinker. He's been in formal rehab eighteen times, but he's been in his own personal kind of pseudo rehab, with women taking care of him until they realize the alcohol takes precedence and drives Jerzy; they're hopelessly committed to his convalescence until they're completely hopeless. Then they leave.
"When I say I do not drink, it is certainly the case that this is not true, but when I say I do drink, I could equally be lying through my teeth. Don't believe me, don't believe me. A drunkard is ashamed to drink, but a drunkard has an even greater source of shame - he's ashamed not to drink. What kind of drunkard doesn't drink? The lousy kind. And what's better: lousy or not lousy?"
Who can't laugh at that even while crying on the inside? Of course the women leave, in the face of this talk, of this futility and absurdity.
Jerzy relates the stories of those on the alco ward, in rehab with him. While he's there, he writes instead of drinking. When he's out, he's drinking and incapable of writing. The stories of his cohort are numerous and the same but particular in the details. Don Juan the Rib, The Most Wanted Terrorist in the World, the Queen of Kent - even his grandfather, long gone, is central but beside the point. All of them are trapped in their addiction, and there are two ways out: To be a lousy drunkard or a superior one.
In one memorable scene, Alberta and two strange men appear to Jerzy as he is longing for his next drink, which is nowhere to be found. They offer him drinks and an agreement: Help Alberta publish her poems so that they're read by the Pope (yeah, the Pope), and he can drink all he wants. She stays with him and recites her pieces, but she can't help but listen to and talk with Jerzy.
"Let me tell you, Ala: only the naive think that there are different kinds of getting out....every getting out is the same...You get out of the hospital, in other words you get out of your illness, and re-enter the world, which itself is one big illness. Do you see?"
The plight of an alcoholic is explained through this kind of logic, and it continues throughout the novel. If anyone has the most complete picture of alcoholism and its ruinous effects, it's Jerzy, writing down the stories of countless other drunks. No one else knows more about this illness than he does, but after countless relationships and stays at a rehab facility, it's unlikely to think that reasons for getting out matters much; what else could compel someone to leave one illness for another, to step from an alco ward and into the illness of the world? In the end, we find out whether Jerzy believes the things he says he does about alcoholism, whether or not he's willing to trade one illness for another, and why.
Oh yes, I assume one could argue that this whole book is a deeply allegorical tale of the changes in Polish politics in the last 50 years, during which the vodka of choice for the narrator changes with the government and many of those responsible for overseeing his care are as damaged as the narrator. But I think that is way too easy an out for this self-indulgent novel.
There is the predictable banter, wordplay, drunken monologues that are meant to be funny. Fellow drunks have names like Hero of Socialist Labor and Most Wanted Terrorist in the World and are given stories to match. But at its core this book is based on the old saw that drunks are simply broken souls too delicate for the cold unfeeling world. Just saying it doesn't make it true and the short descriptions of his fellow inmates strewn throughout the book are facile and somewhat pointless.
"Drinking, writing and battling with the beast of drunken rhetoric is ghastly, ghastly, ghastly." And reading about it? Even more ghastly!