The Palimpsests

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An absurdly dark tragi-comedy of language and literature.

Czeslaw Przęśnicki is an Eastern-European immigrant writer who survived the long toilet paper lines of communist Poland, the loss of his lover Ernest Hemingway following a passionate affair, and the beatings of the Antarctic literary community for his forays into novel-writing in their native tongue. In The Palimpsests, we find him languishing in a Belgium asylum (a country, we are persistently reminded, that has had no government for the past year), undergoing Bartlebian therapy to strip away his knowledge of any language that is not Polish, his native tongue.

The Palimpsests (originally written in Spanish by Polish writer Aleksandra Lun) is characterized by an unquestionable timeliness, relevant to today’s discussions on immigration, senses of cultural belonging and ownership, and personal relationships to language, complicated and simple, adopted and native. Peppered with appearances by Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Conrad, and of course, Przęśnicki’s former lover Ernest Hemingway, it is the perfect book for lovers of the art of writing.

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I was in the Jewish cemetery of Bucharest and saw the look that the gravedigger’s dog gave its owner, and I knew I was in the presence of a love come late in life.’ So goes the perspective on life by Czeslaw Przęśnicki, an imaginary hero/survivor from the mad, beautiful, unbearable, funny, tragic, hilarious, tender, suffocating, lovable, world of his exile and his mind. Aleksandra Lun has produced a virtuoso concerto in these pages, the kind of verbal music that is strangely relevant for our moment, and yet also for any moment. My gratitude to Elizabeth Bryer for her crisp, clear translation. This book is a wild ride that you won’t soon forget.”—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

“A fantastic romp—with great cameos—that brilliantly showcases the linguistic and literary loves of author and translator alike.”—Jennifer Croft, translator of the Man Booker International Prize-winning Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

“Dark, hilarious—with cameos from Beckett, Conrad, Melville & more, all in a Belgian asylum! A meditation on language & mother tongues. It’s a jewel in under 100 pages.”—Mark Haber, author of Reinhardt’s Garden

Aleksandra Lun left Poland at 19, financed her studies in languages and literature in Spain by working at a casino, and now lives in Belgium. She translates from English, French, Spanish, Italian, Catalan, and Romanian into Polish. Her first novel, The Palimpsests, written in Spanish, garnered critical acclaim in France, and its translation into English by Elizabeth Bryer won a PEN/Heim grant from PEN America. She is currently studying Dutch and working on her second novel.

Elizabeth Bryer is a translator and writer. In 2017 she was a recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant to translate Aleksandra Lun’s The Palimpsests. Other translations from Spanish include Claudia Salazar Jiménez's Blood of the Dawn, winner of the 2014 Americas Prize. Her debut novel, From Here On, Monsters, is out with Picador.