In Red

Magdalena Tulli

translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
Archipelago Books 2011 [1998]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2015
Set in the town of Stitchings, under Swedish occupation after an imaginary fourth partition of Poland, In Red follows the elite families of the town, its leading capitalists and industrialists and governors, and a visiting singer and her manager, through the tumultuous events of the early twentieth century. It lacks a simple core, but tells of love and greed, of war and trade and the lure of travel and money, through an interwoven panoply of characters.

Here one of the characters manages to kick-start commerce after the war by temporarily controlling the key commodities of gold and potatoes:

"Potatoes flowed onto the Stitchings market in an even stream, and their mass, once it had passed the critical point, opened the floodgates to an under-the-counter trade in gold.
'It worked!' shouted Felek Chmura, running down the middle of the street with his hands raised in a gesture of triumph. From that time on his people stood on every corner of Salt Street, turning wedding rings into cash, which was immediately taken to the little stores to pay overdue debts and renew credit. The legs of the women standing in line swelled up, while at home a throng of hungry children waited, along with a pile of torn stockings to be darned. The work never ended, tubs of soapy water stood perpetually in the kitchens."

Despite its basic realism, Tulli's story has elements of the fantastic and something of a dream-like quality, matching the irreality of the setting. And her prose approaches the intensity of poetry in places, with narrative and description interspersed with brief fragments of dialogue.

March 2015

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%T In Red
%A Tulli, Magdalena
%M Polish
%F Johnston, Bill
%I Archipelago Books
%D 2011 [1998]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781935744085
%P 158pp