Wojciech Kuczok (born 1972) is a poet, novelist, screenwriter, film critic and speleologist. Gnój (“Muck”) was his first novel, and won him rapid acclaim at the age of 30, as well as Poland’s top literary prize, the NIKE. He wrote the screenplay for an award-winning film based on it. He has also published two collections of short stories and a book of essays about cinema. In 2008 his second novel, Senność (“Somnolence”) appeared, and was also made into a film. His latest work of fiction, published in 2011, is Spiski (“Conspiracies”), a set of connected stories about a young man’s adventures in the Tatras. Most recently he has written a travel book, Poza światłem (“Beyond the Light”).
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Muck is a quasi-autobiographical story of the hero’s nightmare of a childhood described from the distance of his maturity. The main characters are his father, “Old K.”, a bully who gives the child “educational” beatings, and his mother, who defends the child, and to whom the father to some extent defers. The parents bicker constantly, but despite the dysfunctional relationships within the family, they are strangely inter-dependent. Finally the boy grows up and leaves, and the family house, built by his grandfather, caves in on top of Old K.
The novel contains some superb sketches of family life, satirical and lyrical portraits of the household members, and some wonderful scenes from life in Silesia (his family chronicle goes back as far as the pre-war era).
The story is set in the mining area of Silesia (south-western Poland), which before the war was part of Germany. Kuczok makes use of the regional and mining dialect of Silesia for many of the dialogues, giving a strong flavour of a specific place and culture. Extremely successful both in Poland and abroad, Muck has been translated into fifteen languages.
As Kuczok himself explains: “Muck is the story of a family hell, told by a child who already has all that behind him, and can now relate to it as history, but for some reasons has not stopped being a child. It’s about those shivers down the spine that make themselves felt in mid-word; about the lack of hurry with which the whole thing develops; about obsessively solemnising fictional minutiae.”