The Birch Grove
and Other Stories
by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
With an Introduction by Leszek Kolakowski
"The four beautiful stories in The Birch Grove
and Other Stories by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz are written
in the language of dreams that have come true: wistful
and full of gentle melancholy. They are set in the rolling
hills and forests of an idyllic but reorganizable rural
Europe, sometime between the two World Wars
explanation for Iwaszkiewicz's unexpected focus is offered
in the introduction by the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski
(written for this addition to the excellent series of
Central European Classics, whose aim is to show the
West the genius of the other, Eastern Europe, hidden
for half a century behind the Iron Curtain). Kolakowski
gives just enough thoughtful context and background
to guide English-speaking readers to an understanding
of an author whose work is familiar to every Polish
reader, yet remains unknown to the outside world
As the Western and Eastern halves of a continent that
has been divided by ideology finally prepare to reunite
in the European Union, fictions such as these, which
bring back the breath and colour of humanity to the
Western world's picture of Poland, deserve to be celebrated."
- Times Literary Supplement
"The short stories included in The Birch Grove
and Other Stories are some of his most famous writings.
In Antonia Lloyd-Jones's excellent translation, the
works retain their rooting in the lucid Realist style,
with a tinge of hypnotic Modernist estrangement. As
Kolakowski sums up, the stories appear rather uneventful,
but read en masse, they offer a 'melancholy affirmation
of the world as it is... never directly expressed.'
Some certainly captivated the celebrated film director,
Andrzej Wajda, whose 1979 movie, The Wilko Girls,
based on Iwaszkiewicz's story, was nominated for an
Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category in 1980.
While the four stories cannot be reduced, of course,
to being merely representations of 'love,' their strength
lies in offering different readings of love, memory,
aging, and death in the Polish fiction of the 1920s-30s
that has been thus far unavailable in English."
- Slavic an East European Journal
"Themes of these stories are the opposition eros/thanatos,
old/young, jealousy, the prime impulses of humanity.
His scenery is the Polish countryside with its noblemen
and peasantry. His technique is modern, mingling past
and present with flashbacks." - Amazon (extract
from a reader's online review)
Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz's work is familiar to every Polish
reader, yet remains unknown to the outside world. The
stories in this selection were all written in the 1930s,
and provide an extraordinary evocation of Poland's first
brief era of independence between the wars. They are
also timeless sonatas of love and loss.
In 'A New Love', Iwaszkiewicz uses masterful brevity
to take a wry, comical look at the illusion of romance
from the viewpoint of a jaded, cynical lover. One of
his best-known works, 'The Wilko Girls', tells of a
middle-aged man's quest to recover his lost youth in
the aftermath of the First World War, which has left
him psychologically scarred. He travels to the scene
of his pre-war summer holidays in the eastern borderlands,
where he renews his friendship with the fascinating
sisters whom he knew when they were girls. But no one
is the same and nothing can be as it was.
'The Birch Grove' is the moving story of a woodsman
who, spiritually destroyed by the death of his wife,
has buried himself away in an isolated forest. When
his lively younger brother unexpectedly comes to stay,
his self-centred peace is disrupted. But his brother
has come home to die. The lives of two young men, one
a deeply religious poet, the other a sceptical, worldly
estate owner, are touchingly contrasted in 'The Mill
on the River Utrata'. Confirming these stories' central
place in Polish cultural history, 'The Wilko Girls'
and 'The Birch Grove' were made into classic films by
Andrzej Wajda, Poland's leading director.
Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980) was one of
Poland's outstanding twentieth-century writers. Best
remembered for his novels and stories, he also wrote
poetry, plays and essays. He was an active participant
in Warsaw's cultural life between the wars as a member
of the Skamander group of poets. During the wartime
occupation he helped a number of writers and artists
to hide. After the war he was editor of Poland's leading
literary journal, and chairman of the Polish Writers
Leszek Kolakowski is one of the Europe's most
eminent philosophers. His books include Main Currents
of Marxism, God Owes Us Nothing, Presence of Myth,
and Metaphysical Horror. He is a Fellow of All
Soul's College, Oxford.
Timothy Garton Ash is well known for his writings
about Central Europe. His books include The Polish
Revolution: Solidarity, The Uses of Adversity: Essays
on the Fate of Central Europe, The File: A Personal
History, and, most recently, History of the Present.
He is Director of the European Studies Centre at St
Antony's College, Oxford.
Antonia Lloyd-Jones is editor and translator.
Born in 1962, she read Russian and Ancient Greek at
Oxford. Her translations from Polish include Who
was David Weiser? by Pawel Huelle (nominated for
the Independent Foreign Fiction Award) and House
of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk.
ISBN 978-963-9241-45-9 paperback $17.95 / €13.95
Published in the series:
European Classics / CEU Press Classics