Andrzej Tichý


Shortlisted for the 2016 August Prize

Longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize

Winner of  the 2021 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize

Malmö, Sweden. A cellist meets a spun-out junkie. That could have been me. His mind starts to glitch between his memories and the avant-garde music he loves, and he descends into his past, hearing all over again the chaotic song of his youth. He emerges to a different sound, heading for a crash.

From sprawling housing projects to underground clubs and squat parties, Wretchedness is a blistering trip through the underbelly of Europe’s cities. Powered by a furious, unpredictable beat, this is a paean to brotherhood, to those who didn’t make it however hard they fought, and a visceral indictment of the poverty which took them.


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Print status: Available
Translator: Nichola Smalley
Original language: Swedish
Format: B-format paperback
Publication date: 2 June 2020
ISBN: 9781911508762
Ebook ISBN: 9781911508779
Availability: World English
Number of pages: 176


Anthony Anaxagorou

'An utterly phenomenal read: a masterclass in hyper-modernist experimentation, voice and form. Embracing the bitter realities of addiction, prejudice and inner-city turmoil, Tichy’s rapid prose roves internal dialogues, places, vernaculars and circumstances to expose a singular, absorbed world struggling to keep itself afloat. Through a complex network of characters, friends and strangers we’re made to think about the ways the human spirit can fall into despair, its ability to establish resolve, to love and remember, and the myriad philosophies it leaves us with.'

Jon Day
Financial Times

‘A deeply musical book . . . and it is testament to Nichola Smalley’s skill that this musicality survives translation . . . Wretchedness is sensitive and compelling.’  

Peter Brown

‘[The] tension between polyphony and cacophony is exhilarating . . . this furious novel’s brevity is deceptive; getting through it requires stamina, but our brief stay in the cellist’s mind is powerfully, nightmarishly unforgettable.’

Caleb Klaces
The White Review

‘What matters [in this novel] is how it all sounds, the clashes and stresses in the language and the energy of the surface, how it strives, ascends, descends, and trembles, like a tug-of war between weight and levity (to paraphrase a description from the book of Scelsi’s Fourth String Quartet).’  

Sarah Gilmartin
Irish Times

‘Visceral . . . a fascinating read, the real-life details of which further bolster the fiction . . . This is nightmarish, impressionistic literature whose disjointed sentences have an associative flow that accumulates to a shocking whole.’    

Eithne Farry
Daily Mail

‘There is a kind of unholy music in this powerful, punchy, perceptive novel.’      

Anna Aslanyan
The Guardian

‘The polyphony of voices is tightly interwoven . . . arranged into a narrative resembling a complex musical composition . . . The book ends abruptly, as an avant-garde piece of music might, but the vibrations continue to fill the air.’  

Anthony Cummins
Book of the Day The Observer

‘A blurry tornado of voices and timelines, this short novel unspools over eight paragraphs of run-on sentences swirling around the memories of a cellist raised on an estate outside Malmö . . . the novel builds to an unexpectedly heart-stopping . . . finale, with a frame-breaking time-slip that invites us to reconsider everything we’ve just read as a stylistically radical expression of survivor’s guilt.’    

Patty Yumi Cottrell

'Wretchedness is a wild intoxicant of language, momentum, and voice. Andrzej Tichy is a master of despair.'

Tony White

‘The past is so close behind in Nichola Smalley’s translation of Tichý’s precis​e​ maelstrom of memory, music and survival – on the margins of this and every city – that you can smell the chemicals on its breath. There’s nothing to lose and too much to lose; no escape and all our escapes. Keep going. Read it and be thankful for Andrzej Tichý.’

Luke Kennard

‘A bravura, urgent head-trip of a novel, replete with compassion, rage, and gimlet-eyed observation on every page. Essential reading - us English-speakers are lucky to have Tichy’s work available in translation at last.’

Will Ashon

'Some kind of holy/unholy meeting of Thomas Bernhard and The Geto Boys, Wretchedness is an anguished, brutal, beautiful piece of phantasmagoric-realism, an act of remembrance through imagination, animated by rhythm, and pouring past you with the inevitability of the tide coming in. Brilliantly written, superbly translated, this small book packs in more sadness and moments of epiphany, more hopelessness and hope, more surviving - more life! - than most writers manage in a whole career. Remarkable.'

Caleb Klaces

‘The pleasures of this book are immediate, brilliant and deeply unreasonable. Every person and every thought is intensely present. It demeans nothing.’

Derek Owusu

‘A powerful, voice-driven novel that remains in the mind long after the final page. Tichý brings everything to life: circumstances and people we’d rather ignore, with a flow resembling music.’

Nicholas Wroe
The Guardian

‘Graphic depictions of crime, racism, poverty, drug use and violence are rendered through paragraph-free slabs of text that propulsively veer between voices and minds, times and locations. As well as the Swedish estates, the novel draws on Tichý’s experiences of living in Hamburg and London to paint a picture of a pan-European community of the excluded passing through squats, underground clubs, petty scams and cash-only employment. [...] Tichý’s early creative life centered on music and there is a sense of musicality inherent Wretchedness.'

Jen Calleja

'Wretchedness is a red-blooded ode to the most invisible and unwanted in society - immigrant workers, the homeless, addicts, and those born into the hardest of circumstances. Tichy’s gasping, polyphonic prose flies through time and space and drug-induced states, flinging us between disturbing recollections, hopeless presents, and deferred or tainted futures - all connected by bittersour camaraderies and the remedying power of music.'

Eva Johansson
Svenska Dagbladet

‘Tichý writes a delirious, detailed prose, studded with Malmö slang and contemporary verve. The language pours forth over the pages like a contaminated river, full of filth, despair and anxiety, an associative flow of long, disjointed, almost endless sentences.’

Kirkus Reviews

'An inventive, linguistically adept experiment.'

Foreword Reviews

‘Wretchedness is a social novel whose descent into hardship is haunting, and whose lead character is an example of the hazy line between surviving a lifestyle or falling prey to it.’

August Prize Judges

‘What can a survivor do with their history? Can you be loyal to the friends you left behind? Andrzej Tichý turns this wretched reality into something poignant. His polyphonic novel has a rough, rhythmic melody and a ferocious rage.’

Pia Bergström

‘In virtuousically rendered language; full of the poetry of spoken word, the innovation of contemporary slang, and the philosophical verve of great literature, Tichý gives a voice to the lost ‘brothers’ of his youth. To follow this frantic, mournful, bamboozling, pleading, smart, childish, would-be hard, bragging, desperate and despairing collective memory is to ‘hear’ a whole forsaken generation. Despite the embracing of darkness, despite the absence of hope and faith, it is a magnificent elegy, teeming with life.’

Ann Lingebrandt
Sydsvenska Dagbladet

‘In terms of ambition, few contemporary Swedish authors can compete with Tichý. The same goes for linguistic intensity. His prose rushes forward, roaring with, if you will, dark poetry, hurling its rage at an indifferent present. Wretchedness is a furious novel.’

Nils Schwartz

‘Authors like Tichý are needed to keep our literature alive. He is drilling frenetically, refusing to neglect the suffering and succeeds to light a spark on a linguistic tinder.’

Books by Andrzej Tichý