What sold me on Salki, by Wojciech Nowicki, was a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the comparisons it draws to other writers I admire.
Nowicki travels like Svetlana Alexievich. He wants to understand the emotional history of his family, and how memories are formed. Like Georges Perec, whom he admires and cites, he accumulates impressions, images. "Another moment of beauty in Perec," he writes, "is his endless calculations, lists of objects, people, facts, and occurrences […] like smoke over a meadow."So it's no wonder my impressions both of Alexievich and Perec hover over my reading of Salki, and I'm attuned to the similarities.
Nowicki also writes in lists. It's at times almost trance-like, a way to access memory, whereas with Perec, perhaps it's a way to order the chaotic external world.
But it's striking also to see this edition of Salki side by side with Perec's classic, Life: A User's Manual, how they both show cross-sections of a living space — the intersection of individual lives and the attics of the mind. The archeological, and psychological, layers of identity.
The cover of the original Polish edition features an elephant on the roof of a nondescript building. I was so struck by the review I linked to above, that not only did I promptly order myself a copy, I convinced my sister to attend in my stead a reading and discussion with the author, Wojciech Nowicki, and the translator, Jan Pytalski (there was an event near her, but not one in my town). There was some discussion of the different tone in covers for the different language editions, but both are appropriate to the content; ultimately, cover art is a marketing decision.
One other element on the English cover: the endorsement from Andrzej Stasiuk. "Your skin will crawl with pleasure from reading." Which is just a little bit weird and sets me a-tingle.
This book is not fiction. These are essays and anecdotes. Salki is a memoir, a travelogue, an inquiry, a meditation. I am reading it slowly, for that skin-crawling pleasure.