What is your favourite book written in the last 20 years?
That would have to be one of the books by Polish author Małgorzata Musierowicz from her series called Jeżycjada. The series has been going on since 1970’s until now and we’re just awaiting what is said to be the last book in this series, but somehow its release date keeps being postponed, and looking at the author’s website it seems that she hasn’t even finished it yet, as recently she’s been busy writing two other books which are like a sort of illustrated encyclopaedia of the series. Because it’s highly visual and people seem to enjoy it most because of the illustrations and pictures, I haven’t read the first one which has been released so far and I don’t think I will, I don’t really know how much I’d have out of it.
Anyway, Mrs. Musierowicz’s books are definitely among my most favourite books ever and have been for years, ever since I was a teenager – no, wait, earlier! I was already devouring them when I was recovering from the Achilles tendons surgery that I had when I was 10 and Olek – who was 8 at the time – was reading them as well, because I was borrowing them on tape books and then giving them to him, but he’s no longer into this kind of books. –
I only regret so much that, while there are some Japanese translations, and I’ve also heard of Italian and Russian ones, I don’t think any of her books have been translated to English. The series takes its name from Jeżyce, a district of Poznań, where most of the plot of the books takes place (it’s a joking reference to Iliad, Iliada in Polish). They are classified as YA books and most people think about them as books for teenage girls, and I think they are written primarily with such audience in mind, but I know many people who are not teenage girls yet who enjoy her writing and like to come back to it, and I don’t think the fact that this series is almost 50 years old and the characters who were teens at the beginning are middle-aged now is the only reason behind this phenomenon.
This series is like a family saga, with the Borejko family at its core, also involving their friends or some more distant relatives. Reading this series can give you an impression that the world (or at least Poznań) must be seriously very small, as almost everyone knows everyone there. 😀 Mr. and Mrs. Borejko (Ignacy and Melania “Mila”) have four daughters (Gabriela, Ida, Natalia (also known as Nutria) and Patrycja (aka Pulpecja, her nickname doesn’t mean anything but it sounds like pulpet which is meatball in Polish or humourously may refer to someone who is plump and roly-poly like she is). They were teens/children at the start of the series, but now are mums and wives in their forties and fifties. Typically, one book is particularly focused on one specific character, usually a teenager, who usually is more or less seriously in love with someone, but we also get to have very close encounters with a lot of other characters and see things through their perspective and catch up with their lives.
The Borejko family is quite peculiar, a lot of people who aren’t fans of the series say they’re a bit intellectually snobbish, with the grandfather – Ignacy – being a classical philologist and stoic obsessed with ancient culture and ancient philosophers and quoting them (in latin) obviously, looking down especially upon so called women’s literature and crime novels. His wife can obviously also speak Latin, as can all his daughters (Gabriela is also a classical philologist) and grandchildren, they’re also all very well-read people, even those who are not necessarily very academically inclined like Pulpecja who failed her final exam the first time and after she passed it she went on to study forestry and now is leading a bucolic life in the countryside as a fulfilled wife, mother and makes yummy food all the time. I get how that intellectual stuff can be annoying for people, and I think it could be very likely annoying for outside people in real life that you only seem to be a valuable conversation partner when you know enough Latin and have the right taste in literature, but somehow in the books it doesn’t bug me personally too much, maybe because I started reading her books when I wasn’t able to have so much insight into all this so it now seems just normal, or maybe because, while my own grandad isn’t well-versed in ancient philosophers and doesn’t brag with his Latin all the time, nor is he particularly similar to Ignacy at all, he also knows Latin and I’ve picked up a lot of bits and pieces from him over the years, as well as from going to Tridentine Masses and learning about names’ etymology, so it maybe isn’t as glaring to me or something. Besides I find them a very warm family (if a bit too hospitable, with their kitchen overflowing with people regularly 😀 and their house being always full even without additional people since their family is so huge by now), who all have very well-developed, realistic personalities, most easily likeable but not without flaws (well, except for Gabriela – the eldest of the Borejko daughters, who is a bit of a Mary Sue or has become over the years). I like how they’re all very close to each other yet they’re all very distinct individuals, and that they always have so much yummy food. Seriously, you can’t read any Musierowicz books without feeling hungry or getting wild cravings for whatever they’re eating.
They are amazing books if you just want to escape from the world around you and read something that is light and rather utopian but also stimulating and actually absorbing unlike a lot of so called light books. They are full of strengthening and heartening warmth and I love Musierowicz’s sense of humour and generally her way of seeing people. I’ve re-read all of her books at least a dozen times and they still often make me laugh when I re-read them.
I do have to admit that I think her earlier books were better overall. A lot of people got so discouraged that, although they used to be dedicated readers, they stopped reading her new books altogether because they think her writing has worsened so much. I wouldn’t go as far as that and I generally don’t like criticising her books (I was almost like brought up by them in some way so I guess it feels almost as awful as if I were criticising my parents or something 😀 ) and I think a lot of what people consider to be caused by her worsening writing style is just that times are changing, the characters are evolving, and so the series is changing, which is sadly inevitable but it’s as unfair to say that it’s worse because of this as if you said about a real life person that they are becoming worse and somehow lower-quality just because they are getting older and also adjusting to the changing times. There are definitely flaws to Musierowicz’s writing, most prominent one in my opinion being that she doesn’t seem to think things through carefully and does very little research beforehand when it would really be needed. But still, I really love her books.
It would be really difficult though to pick just one book of this series of those written in this century that I like the most. I don’t think I have a favourite. Sometimes when people asked me that I would say Kalamburka (which is a book about Mila Borejko’s life which starts in 2001 and then goes back in time gradually all the way to 1935 when she was born) but I usually said that just because Mila is one of my most favourite characters of the series rather than because I love the book itself much more than others.
How about you? 🙂