A city ignited by hate. A man in thrall to power. The ferociously original award-winning bestseller by Poland's literary phenomenon--his first to be translated into English.
It's 1937. Poland is about to catch fire.
In the boxing ring, Jakub Szapiro commands respect, revered as a hero by the Jewish community. Outside, he instills fear as he muscles through Warsaw as enforcer for a powerful crime lord. Murder and intimidation have their rewards. He revels in luxury, spends lavishly, and indulges in all the pleasures that barbarity offers. For a man battling to be king of the underworld, life is good. Especially when it's a frightening time to be alive.
Hitler is rising. Fascism is escalating. As a specter of violence hangs over Poland like a black cloud, its marginalized and vilified Jewish population hopes for a promise of sanctuary in Palestine. Jakub isn't blind to the changing tide. What's unimaginable to him is abandoning the city he feels destined to rule. With the raging instincts that guide him in the ring and on the streets, Jakub feels untouchable. He must maintain the order he knows--even as a new world order threatens to consume him.
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About the Author
Szczepan Twardoch is the author of the bestselling novels Morphine, Drach, and The King of Warsaw. He is the recipient of numerous honors for his work, including the Brücke Berlin Preis, Le Prix du Livre Européen, and Nike Literary Award: Audience Award. Rights to his novels have been sold in over a dozen countries. The King of Warsaw is the first of his books to be translated into English. A TV series based on the novel is being produced by Canal+. He lives in Pilchowice, Upper Silesia. For more information, visit www.szczepantwardoch.pl/en/home.
Sean Gasper Bye is a translator of Polish, French, and Russian literature. His translations of fiction, reportage, and drama have appeared in Words Without Borders, Catapult, Continents, and he is a winner of the 2016 Asymptote Close Approximations Prize. He was awarded an NEA Translation Fellowship to work on this book.
"Streaked with magic realism and dream logic, the novel slides eerily between reality and illusion, 1930s Poland and 1980s Israel, where Moyshe has morphed into a retired Israeli army officer typing out his Warsaw memories. Driven by a ruthless energy, the first of Twardoch's novels to be available in an English translation is astonishing and heartbreaking in equal measure. It never runs out of revelation. A wickedly enthralling novel by one of Poland's emerging literary stars." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Brutal...Compulsively readable...Twardoch's willingness to stare into the abyss elevates this racing work to sublime heights." --Publishers Weekly
"Dense but powerful...spins the convention of the unreliable narrator in multiple directions: not only may the narrator be deceiving the reader, he may also be deceiving himself. All of this storytelling legerdemain adds complexity and fascinating psychological texture to the book, which at its heart is a gripping tale of a Godfather-like power struggle between warring mobs, one largely Jewish, the other anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist. The Tarrantino-caliber violence can be overwhelming but is never gratuitous in a novel that is fundamentally about a country and its people on the verge of decimation." --Booklist
"[An] intelligent and literary novel...original." --Library Journal
"Szczepan Twardoch has brought Poland back onto the world literature stage." --Die Welt
"Bold, powerful, occasionally surreal, a blend of historical fiction and noir thriller, multifaceted, intense and unsettling...Twardoch is one of the most fascinating and exciting storytellers of our day." --Buchkultur
"Wonderful literature, a festival of language, a dance atop a volcano that toys deftly with narrative perspective, a gallery of colorful, sharply contoured figures." --Tages-Anzeiger
"A great joy to read...This elegantly constructed and linguistically virtuosic book has a unique aura that's practically impossible to resist." --Deutschlandradio, Book of the Week
"A wild book, a crazy book, and a wise book but also a book full of cruelties, since it's about boxers, gangsters, and monsters...in other words, it has everything you'd expect in a good novel, a very good novel." --WDR 5
"Twardoch wins the reader over through gripping dialogue, compositional finesse, suspense that continues until the very end, and an unsettling story." --Neue Zürcher Zeitung
"Twardoch's depictions of individual characters, atmospheres, and political currents are precise, vivid, and ecstatic, almost to the point of madness." --Rolling Stone (Germany)
"A brilliant and inventive novel about the Polish-Jewish underworld of the interwar period...highly suspenseful." --Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
"There is no doubt in my mind--Twardoch is at present a writer endowed with creative powers of which his peers can only dream...The King of Warsaw is a deftly written thriller with a subtle and unimposing issue behind it." --Dariusz Nowacki, Gazeta Wyborcza
"The King of Warsaw reads terrifyingly, embarrassingly well--together with the author, we are immersed in a whole swamp of sick ideology, brutality, and infinite baseness." --Marcin Fijolek, wPolityce.pl
"This is a real 'boy's' novel. It begins with a punch--with a fast-paced description of a boxing match. All of Twardoch's fetishes are in place: weapons, cars, suits. There's exciting violence, a locker-room atmosphere, sexual fantasies, and voyeurism--we first see the main protagonist, the Jewish mafioso boxer Jakub Szapiro, through the eyes of an anxious skinny boy...A retro detective story in the spirit of Tyrmand, but darker and more brutal." --Witold Mrozek
"After reading The King of Warsaw, it is hard to just put it back on the shelf and pretend that we have merely read a great book. The King of Warsaw rummages around in our guts and plunges deep into our consciences." --Krzysztof Varga
"This is what Twardoch probably does best--he writes about Warsaw like it was [the] New York or Chicago of the time, and does it in fine style." --Lukasz Grzymislawski
"Something like a Polish version of Inglourious Basterds, in which the oppressed Polish Jews, supported by a likable Polish gangster, take revenge on Polish anti-Semites. Or simply a gangster picaresque novel set in an era that is increasingly popular." --Juliusz Kurkiewicz
"Ultimately, The King seems a study in extremes: love and violence, sympathy and revulsion, fantasy and reality. That Twardoch can balance these extremes is a testament to his skill." --World Literature Today