The strange and special
There are times when a story imprints itself onto you in inexplicable ways, and you feel it in your gut—a portentous affinity, a possibility for magic and mischief. Or “chemistry”, as our friends Karolina and Anna from Polish indie publisher Tajfuny would say.
We'd recently caught up with them over zoom, talking business but mostly talking about books we're psyched about and how soon borders will open so that we may meet. How in the meantime—we read, we publish.
To introduce Shezlez to our catalogue and the forces of the market is both risk and ambition. A dogged manuscript submitter, Serbian author Marko Vignjević had sent us his works since 2016. Every time it would be a full novel, and every time we'd have to decline them because they were rough around the edges, too risky, too far, too tough, too costly. But there was the growing and distinct respect that Marko was a creator of worlds, a storyteller.
In 2018, Marko sent us Shezlez the Self-Proclaimed.
The first lines of this book open with a blip in the mundane: "Word went around town that the authorities were organising the issuing of family tree information to interested persons, free-of-charge. This sparked Shezlez’s interest for he was born out of wedlock, and only after his birth did his parents marry." Thus we follow our eponymous protagonist to the municipal offices on a wintry day in an unnamed country.
What ensues is a sequence of events that seem to roll on, one after the other, each collapsing into another, cause unto cause. It will baffle you how uncanny Shezlez is to our local political climate yet, how universal, how absurd. Absurd indeed that this story had written itself before our own general elections last month.
Amidst the whirr of the daily grind, I think to myself, what is Shezlez the Self-Proclaimed? Is it really a blip?
Towards the end of our zoom meeting, Karolina expressed how surreal that we're together this way, in this configuration—them just beginning a new day in Warsaw, and us winding down here at home. The light cast differently.
Shezlez is the strange and the special. It is allegory and truth. Hate it or love it, I hope this novella surprises and sticks with you.
(From August 22, 2020)