Marek Hlasko’s The Eighth Day of the Week


Hlasko (1)I don’t know how to say his last name either. Let’s just pretend like you pronounce every letter and move along.

Marek Hlasko is one of my favorite writers that almost no one has ever heard of. He writes with a kind of tempered hopefulness that you don’t normally associate with Cold War writers, regardless of their nationality, but that is even more surprising coming out of Soviet-controlled Poland. As the title of this novel suggests, the characters are all waiting for something that probably won’t come, but the way they wait, the dignity of their suffering and their enduring hope make Eighth Day of the Week a beautiful novel to spend a night with (it’s only 128 pages).

The novel opens with a young couple in a park. The novel’s heroine, Agnieszka (your guess is as good as mine) is explaining to Pietrek that she does not want to consummate their relationship in the park, she wants to go somewhere private. But in Poland , however, where families live two or three to a house, and the secret police and even private citizens are constantly scrutinizing every move, there is simply nowhere for young people to go and be alone.

The rest of the novel follows Agnieszka as she and Pietrik try desperately to find a secluded place. I’m a big fan of predicament, and this novel has a great one: where can we get it on? We meet Agnieszka’s brother, Grzegorz (now you’re just messing with me), who is in love with a married woman who lives in another city. He waits for her constantly, but she will not visit him. Agnieszka finds him in bars, getting into brawls, trying to kill himself. Meanwhile, her father looks out their front window and dreams that “Next Sunday I’ll go fishing.”

All this can sound awfully depressing, and it is, but Agnieszka’s passion and clarity of purpose make for a compelling counterpoint to the hopelessness and delusion that surrounds her. She is determined to do something, anything, to break out of the cycle of wistful dreaming that has infected her family and, indeed, all of Poland.

The novel is out of print, but Amazon always has a bunch of cheap, used copies, and it is really worth the trouble of locating it. I’ve bought a couple of extra copies for friends over the years. It’s a beautiful, agonizing novel, with a kind of unassailable dignity you can’t find anymore, especially here at home.

Another of his novels, Killing the Second Dog, about two con-men in Israel, is also worth a look. Enjoy.