THE LAUREATE: Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont was born in Kobiele Wielkie in Poland. He grew up in the upper echelon of Polish peasant society (his father was an organist!) He was eventually declared a journeyman tailor, but never worked a day as a tailor in his life. He ran away to join traveling acting troupes twice, but was kicked out both times for being a terrible actor. He eventually became a railway employee in Lipce. Reymont traveled quite a lot, and wrote a number of travelogues. His most famous work was The Promised Land, about three friends, a German, a Pole and a Jew, who build a factory during the most intense period of industrialization in 19th century Poland. (The punchline is hilarious!) He won the Nobel for The Peasants, a four book cycle that describes a year in the life of a peasant community. He died in 1925.
WHAT I’M READING: Well, one condition of my project is that if one particular work by a laureate is cited, I have to read it. Reymont won for The Peasants, so I’ll read at least one part of it.
REVIEW: I’m not going to lie; this is one of the books I was dreading. “Ugh! How many pages about Polish peasants?” But once I actually started reading it, I was pleasantly surprised. The story in Autumn is simple: Mattias Borynas isn’t giving any of his land to his adult children and they think he should! Mattias is marrying the village slut! Mattias’ son (probably) had sex with her a few times before the wedding, but Mattias kicked him and his wife and child out of the house! What will happen next? But in and around that simple but effective story, Reymont has created a portrait of 19th century Polish life and customs. Okay, so that’s not most peoples’ cup of tea, but it sure is mine. I will even go so far as to say that The Peasants is the only true epic (in the sense that it tells a simple story and also presents the life of a people in all its variety) that I have read other than the Iliad and Odyssey.
RECOMMENDED: Oh hell yes. As soon as the English translation becomes public domain, which should be next year, I will start printing it out. You should do the same, since it costs about a hundred and fifty bucks to buy it by volume. The only book by Reymont actually in print in English is The Comedienne, which I guess I might take a look at later.
WHAT’S NEXT: Selma Lagerlöf’s Gösta Berling’s Saga