I received an advanced review copy of this title from New Vessel Press. This book was originally written in Polish in 1959 and this English version is translated by Wiesiek Powaga.
Jurek is a twenty-year-old college student who lives with his aunt. She is very doting on him and works hard to provide well for him. So it is rather puzzling when one day she asks him to hang a mirror in their apartment and he turns the hammer he was using for this task on her head. In two quick and hard whacks to the head auntie is now a corpse.
Jurek’s life, leading up with to this point, is rather mundane and dreary. He goes to lectures at the university, hangs out with friends, and eats dinners cooked by auntie; there is no real challenge in his life until he is faced with the disposal of auntie’s corpse which is now decomposing in his bathtub. The humor of the book is very dark, but done brilliant, especially as Jurek tries and fails many times to chop up and hide body parts.
He first takes off a thumb and starts small. When he tries to flush the finger down the toilet it keeps floating to the surface so he has to fish it out of the commode and try another plan. He then hacks off a foot and shoves it into the coal stove in his apartment. All of a sudden there is a massive amount of smoke in his kitchen and an awful stench that draws the attention of his neighbors. He finally decides to wrap up different body parts and mail them to random people around the city.
Jurek is intent on not getting caught and the anticipation of whether or not his crime will be found out makes this an intriguing read. Jurek gets very drunk with a group of friends and is picked up by the police on the way home. He thinks they have found out about his crime and he is ready to confess everything only to learn that they put him in jail for public intoxication. Jurek also falls in love with a woman he meets on the train and when the relationship with her becomes intimate he confesses everything to her. For a minute we think that she will tell the police but she suddenly decides to help him dispose of the corpse. Finally, when another aunt and his grandmother visit they discover the corpse and mistake it for animal meat and bite a chunk out of it.
KILLING AUNTIE is humorous, intense, and in the end, surreal and nightmarish. The ending is somewhat bizarre but a fantastic and unexpected surprise. New Vessel Press has given us another brilliant novella in translation that I highly recommend.
Bursa published his first poem in 1954. A prolific writer, he published 37 poems and a short story in different magazines during his lifetime. He died of a heart attack in 1957. Shortly thereafter, his first poetry collection was published, an important event in Polish poetry. Presently, there is a poetry prize named after Bursa which many living Polish poets have won (e.g. Ewa Lipska and Stanisław Barańczak).