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The Mighty Angel Hardcover – Apr 15 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 155 pages
  • Publisher: Open Letter (April 15 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934824089
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934824085
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 1.8 x 21.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,237,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"The Mighty Angel of the title is both the pub where this eloquent antihero—like his creator, a writer named Jerzy—escapes sobriety and the fiery messenger from the Book of Revelations. As he tells his story, mingled with those of his fellow inmates in rehab, Jerzy captures both the ecstasies and ugly despair of inebriation. The novel, which offers no excuses, is as funny and charming as it is gruesome and tragic. In addition to being an alcoholic, Jerzy is addicted to words. This interferes with his ability to lead a fully engaged life as much as his fondness for peach vodka does. Translator Johnston deserves credit, too, for the precise rendering.
A candid, caustic, intensely human depiction of alcoholism."–Kirkus

"The modern literary tradition—in particular, the Lost Generation writers and their contemporaries—has 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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa5d93f18) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5da4b1c) out of 5 stars A drunkard is ashamed to drink, but a drunkard has an even greater source of shame - he's ashamed not to drink. Aug. 20 2010
By C - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When I started this, it was at a time when I needed a good book that was an obviously good book. Not one of those, well, made-it-to-the-end-and-didn't-hate-it kind of books. The Mighty Angel came to me just in time.

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.
HASH(0xa5da4b70) out of 5 stars Outstanding! May 9 2014
By Juls - Published on
Format: Hardcover
True Polish Bible of alcoholism, which won the talented author the most prestigious literature prize in Poland, NIKE, in 2001. It poses the question: Why do we drink? But nobody could give an answer. Even Jerzy Plich's character confesses: “I drink because I drink.” Period. So, the novel does not simply tell us about the drunkenness, and does not simply tell us about the addiction. Paraphrasing Tadeusz Muczek "The Mighty Angel" without any doubt is a novel about the alcoholism, but to restrict ourselves to such a definition is the same as to say that "A Flood" by H. Sienkevicz is a book about the flood (which is not). I guess you'll just have to read and see for yourself.
HASH(0xa5da4fa8) out of 5 stars Splendidly sad-funny novel Dec 26 2011
By George Robinson - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Just finished this novel by by Polish writer Jerzy Pilch. It's the second book of his I've read (A Thousand Peaceful Cities was the other one) and he's really splendid. Very funny and painful stuff about the urge to innoculate oneself against the disappointments of post-Communist life with large quantities of cheap vodka, the difficulty of connecting to other people (especially through an alcoholic haze) and a vivid portrait of the kind of dreamers and losers who survived the Communist period through sheer dumb luck. He has a rather nice line of tongue-in-cheek magical realism that punctures its own potential for pomposity, and more than a little of kind of absurdist humor that thrived during the post-war years (Vaclav Havel, RIP). Major kudos to Open Letter books for making Pilch's work available in the States in English.
HASH(0xa5da4f90) out of 5 stars This book is exceptional--very well written, interesting but also ... July 13 2014
By Catherine - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
This book is exceptional--very well written, interesting but also difficult to read at times. Situated in the Polish reality, it is an honest look at how alcoholics think, act and cope with life, stress and addiction.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5da845c) out of 5 stars The Pathetic Life of a Drunk Jan. 9 2012
By las cosas - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The narrator is an alcoholic, the son and grandson of alcoholics who has spent the last 20 years in and out of rehab both formal (in a public institution) and informal (in the care of the various women in his life). If you like to hear about the pathetic and completely stereotyped lives of a bunch of drunks, this isn't a bad example, and is certainly competently translated by Bill Johnston. But the details of alcoholic life, from the vomit to the endless lying and self-deception masquerading as deep insights into human nature were to me simply pathetic and boring. I mean who cares?

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!

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