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- Publisher: Serpent's Tail
- Format: Paperback | 160 pages
- Dimensions: 124mm x 170mm x 18mm | 159g
- Publication date: 1 February 2006
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 1852428694
- ISBN 13: 9781852428693
- Illustrations note: 10 b&w photos
- Sales rank: 889,689
In the Polish city of Gdansk, our narrator Pawel tells of the driving lessons he took in the early 1990s, shortly after the end of communism. As he struggled with the tiny Fiat's gearbox, causing chaos while stalled at a crossroads, Pawel entertained his instructor - the lovely Miss Ciwle - with stories of his grandparents and parents lives. Through these tender stories we hear of one family's obsession with classic cars - in particular Mercedes-Benz - the outings, the races, the crashes and the inevitable repairs. Based on fact and illustrated with personal photographs, these tales contrast the golden era of Poland's pre-war independence with the dismal communist years, and with the uncertain new chapter in the country's history that had only just begun when Pawel was learning to drive. With elegant brilliance, Huelle creates a touching portrait of three generations amid life-changing historical events.
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Pawel Huelle was born in 1957. The author of Who Was David Weiser?, Huelle is a novelist, playwright and journalist who has lived most of his life in Gdansk. His latest novel Castorp was published in Poland in 2004.
"'Pawel Huelle is one of the most well known Polish writers. In this new book his writing is at least as well oiled as a Mercedes-Benz 170 ought to be, full of stories and reads like a song' TAZ; 'Strictly enclosed by cars and roads, this city-road-movie explores the history of a whole family and era. Wonderful. As Brecht said, the simplest things are the most difficult to create' Bookmarket; 'Highly recommended. It's truly wonderful what this writer from Gdansk has managed to fit into such a tiny car' Focus"
Playful postmodernism Central European-style-entertainment for a decidedly select demographic: automobile aficionados desperate for the inside skinny on Poland's recent past. Pawel knows what he likes: talking and driving, driving and talking. And that's about it for the feckless narrator of this brief ramble of a tale. Namesake of rising literary light and former Solidarity press officer Huelle (Moving House Stories, 1995, etc.), Pawel is a motor-mouth Mercedes maniac fixated on how that spiffy car factors in his family's legend. Himself a downscale prole in the early '90s, he's a student driver tooling around Gdansk in a tiny Fiat. In the midst of learning turn-signaling and parallel parking, he reminisces relentlessly about his dad and granddad. Talking the ear off his driving instructor, Miss Ciwle, a tomboy hottie, he then chronicles their conversations to send to his idol, Czech surrealist short-story writer Bohumil Hrabal. His yarns are decent-enough accounts of everyday people caught in the web of history-his grandfather weathering mustard-gas attacks as a gunner in the Royal Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army, his engineer father finding solace by tinkering with a decrepit Mercedes during the grim height of the hammer-and-sickle years. What's better are his off-the-cuff chats with Miss Ciwle's colleague, a martinet Pawel nicknames "Instructor Uglymug." Wheeling through crosstown traffic, he confides in Uglymug comically dreary stories of his time in military service, "where Major Bushy-Tache educated us about the disastrous effects of long hair on national security, Lieutenant Gewgaw responded to a nuclear attack, and Colonel Pitchfork cast light on the imponderabilia of Lenin's and Brezhnev's doctrines." Colorful setting and trenchant social commentary, but a cul-de-sac plot. (Kirkus Reviews)