Polish Language Blog

Required Reading – Joanna Chmielewska Posted by on Aug 10, 2009 in Culture

Since I’ve boring you to tears with all sorts of useless stuff recently (yeah, yeah, don’t deny it, I know I have) I think we should talk about something light and fun and maybe even interesting today. Namely – reading. Reading in Polish, of course.

“What?” I hear you say, “reading in Polish is supposed to be fun?”

Sure it is. But as in all other languages, it depends on what you read. And I can pretty much guarantee you, that if you read something by one of my favorite Polish authors, it will be fun. That’s the upside, all her books are more or less fun and light and entertaining. So, what’s the downside? As far as I know, none of her stuff has been translated into English yet. Yeah, that’s a pretty serious downside. But guess what? That means you can really push yourself and try reading one of her novels in Polish.

Oh wait, I haven’t even told you her name yet. Joanna Chmielewska. But that’s just her pen name, her real name is Irena Kühn. But whatever… The name is not important here.

What is important is the fact that she’s a hugely popular Polish writer. And she’s a woman. A very funny woman with a talent to tell a funny story.

I admit, her books may not be for everyone. If high-class literature is what you’re after, then definitely, skip Chmielewska and try some fat, classic, sleep-inducing volumes by Reymont, or some other long-dead dude. But if you want to be amused and entertained and have something to read on the beach on during a long flight, then Chmielewska is definitely your woman. Providing, of course, that you are brave enough to try reading a book in Polish.

To date, she wrote more than 50 books: crime fiction, young adult fiction and non-fiction. If you asked me to compare her style to a well known writer from the English speaking world, just to give you an idea of what she’s all about, hmmm… not sure who I should pick. Imagine Bill Bryson or Terry Pratchett writing crime/detective stories. In Polish. Yeah, not exactly, but something like that.

If I had to pick my favorite Chmielewska book, I’d have to go back to her “classic” novels published before 1990. In 1990 her “Dzikie białko” was released and at least to me, that marked the end of “classic” Chmielewska and the beginning of her more modern, post-communist incarnation.

So yes, if I had to pick my favorites, it would be classics like “Wszystko czerwone” (All Red) from 1974, or “Lesio” (1973), and most definitely “Całe zdanie nieboszczyka” (Dead Man’s Tale, 1972).
Yeah, that one. You have no idea how many times I’ve read that book. And it’s a bleeping shame that none of them have been translated into English.

I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a market for Chmielewska stories in the English-speaking world. I mean, after all, all sorts of foreign literature of questionable standards (if you can call them standards at all) get published in English. So why not Chmielewska, huh?

Is her literary agent asleep at the desk (or under the desk, perhaps)? Or too afraid to pursue an international deal? Oh c’mon people, don’t be such wusses! Get out and do your job, for crying out loud! Ms. Chmielewska is over 75 years old. The woman won’t live forever. And it’ll be a total shame if none of her books get published in English during her lifetime.

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  1. inda:

    I started reading Katarzyna Grochola, not high-class literature either, but not difficult to understand.
    And Agatha Christie books in Polish, because the accent is on the story itself and less on the way it is told, so if you miss a couple of metaphores or expressions you still get what’s all about.

  2. Kuba:

    I found most of the books at Merlin.PL. Some even are on CD. But the book would be better served for my learning.

  3. Kuba:

    By the way Anna thanks for the suggestions for reading material for us learners.

  4. basia:

    You, moja droga, have sandbagged me but good. 🙂 You know what I mean…
    Chmielewska. Couldn’t you have picked an author that I didn’t “disrespect”??. I have lost all credibility (well, the very little I had). Sheesh. :))

  5. Kuba:


    What is wrong with Chmielewska’s books?

    Is this and in side joke?

  6. basia:

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to exclude you from the fun. Yes, it’s a joke. I had recently finished reading a book by Chlemiewska and my assessment was rather lukewarm. Given Anna’s strong endorsement, I feel kinda foolish. 🙂

  7. Anna Ikeda:

    Basia, it’s because you started with one of her post 1990 books – those I avoid altogether! I’m sure that if you’ve tried a classic one, you might have enjoyed it a bit more. But on the other hand, and maybe I should have stressed that in my post as well, Chmielewska’s style and sense of humor is not for everyone. My dad, for example, despises her. LOL! 🙂

  8. Kuba:


    Ok, I get it now. I just need to read some relatively easy Polish works.

  9. Sveta R:

    I completely agree with the author of the article about Joanna Chmielewska books. She is bril liat writer and I spent many happy hours reading her books. Thanks God they were translated into Russian and a pretty good translation it was. It is a real pity that none of them were translated into English and so many people live completely unaware of WHAT they are missing. How often I read her books while in the public transport or during the lunch (in Australia) and people keep asking me what book makes me so happy that I laugh reading it and it is always a sad moments when I have to tell them that it is a wonderfull Polish writer but they can not enjioy her books because they were not translated… I hope it will be changed soon.

  10. Galina:

    I absolutely agree – Irena-Barbara-Joanna Chmielewska is my favourite author of all times. And it is a shame, that her books haven’t been translated to English. They were translated to Russian though and Russia has so many fans of this talented lady.