The King of Warsaw

Szczepan Twardoch, trans. from the Polish by Sean Gasper Bye. Amazon Crossing, $24.95 (426p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4446-2
Twardoch’s brutal, messy, and compulsively readable English-language debut portrays boxing, the underworld, and the rise of fascism in 1937 Poland. Jakub Szapiro is a Warsaw “street hero,” a Jewish boxer, and a feared lieutenant for Buddy Kaplica, a crime boss who runs much of the city and has deep ties to the Socialist Party. After killing a Jewish tradesman over an unpaid debt, Jakub takes the murdered man’s teenage son under his wing, initiating the skinny, religiously observant youth into his louche world of brothels and shakedowns. As strengthening fascist elements seek the expulsion of Poland’s Jews, Buddy’s grip on Warsaw loosens and Jakub debates whether to leave the “cursed country” and resettle in Palestine. The events are told through the reminiscences of an old man in Tel Aviv 50 years later, whose account is suffused with questions about national, religious, and political identity and how people shape their personas in response to pervasive violence. While the novel’s pulpy atmosphere and phantasmagoric set pieces are excessive (a flying sperm whale surveys Warsaw with its “burning gaze”), the conclusion offers surprising insight into the narrator’s failure to come to terms with the past. Twardoch’s willingness to stare into the abyss elevates this racing work to sublime heights. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/22/2020
Release date: 04/01/2020
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-7997-4439-9
Paperback - 978-1-5420-4444-8
MP3 CD - 978-1-7997-4440-5
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