TRANSLATED FROM THE POLISH BY STEPHANIE KRAFT
“A novel of epic scope and ambition.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A masterwork."—Wall Street Journal
An influential Polish classic celebrates 50 years—and its first English edition
(A Reading Guide to Stone Tablets)
As Stone Tablets opens, Istvan Terey, a poet and World War II veteran, is serving as cultural attaché with the Hungarian embassy in Delhi just a few months before his country is torn apart by the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. He is personable and popular with Indians and Europeans, communists and capitalists, but his outspoken criticisms of corruption in the Hungarian government and the embassy threaten to undermine his career. Meanwhile, he has fallen in love with Margit, an Australian ophthalmologist working in India, who is still living through a tragedy of her own: her fiancé died under torture during World War II.
Draining heat, brilliant color, intense smells, and intrusive animals enliven this sweeping Cold War romance. Based on the author’s own experience as a Polish diplomat in India in the late 1950s, Stone Tablets was one of the first literary works in Poland to offer scathing criticisms of Stalinism, and was censored when it was first submitted for publication. Stephanie Kraft’s translation opens this book for the first time to English-speaking readers.
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“When Wojciech Zukrowski first published Stone Tablets in 1966, it was banned by the communist authorities in Poland. It’s easy to see why. The book is a love story between a Hungarian and an Australian set in postwar India. But it is also about the bloody legacy of Stalinism and is a novel that, through its characters, rejects the fundamental constructs of the author’s society: communism, imperialism and even the institution of marriage. The title—a reference to the utility of the old laws, those stone tablets brought down the mountain by Moses—alludes to a journey in which sacred orders are broken. Now, 50 years since its release, this masterwork has been translated into English for the first time by Stephanie Kraft."—Wall Street Journal
“A romance fraught with personal and political risk is at the core of this historically important yet previously untranslated novel by a Polish diplomat stationed in India during the Cold War...inspired by the author’s own experiences, Zukrowski’s precise descriptions of India are memorable, and there is a certain throwback appeal to the depictions of diplomacy conducted through telegrams and glasses of whiskey. But it is Zukrowski’s trenchant critique of Stalinism and political message, bold for its time, that make this novel truly noteworthy.”—Booklist
“Politics and romance, always a volatile mixture, intersect in Delhi in 1956 when a Hungarian cultural attaché falls in love with an Australian doctor. Originally published 50 years ago and now translated into English for the first time, this novel draws on Zukrowski's experience as a Polish envoy in India in the 1950s. In the fictional world Zukrowski creates, Istvan Terey, a native of Budapest, works at the Hungarian Embassy in Delhi and deals with some of the minutiae of diplomatic life. Although he's married, his wife and two sons have remained in Budapest, and Istvan feels both out of touch and out of love with his wife. He has an explosive sexual encounter with Grace Vijayaveda, a young Hindu woman on the eve of her wedding to a rajah, but then, at the wedding ceremony, he meets Margit Ward, an Australian eye doctor who's come to India to relieve some of the suffering there. As Grace notes, 'We have misery and suffering enough, so she is in her element.' While neither Istvan nor Margit is looking for romance or love, they find themselves attracted to each other and eventually begin an affair. Things heat up in all senses when Istvan starts receiving disturbing letters from Bela, a friend from Hungary, who recounts to him some of the 'gravity [and] grandeur' of the revolution that's unfolding in Budapest in response to arrests, interrogations, and torture. Istvan feels pulled to return to his native land, though his outspoken criticisms of the government do not sit well with the Hungarian ambassador. And his ongoing relationship with Margit keeps him anchored in India, where he is popular with and sympathetic toward the local residents. And life gets even more morally complicated as the relationship between Margit and Istvan deepens and he considers divorcing his wife. A novel of epic scope and ambition.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"The novel has a vivid love story, a well-paced cinematic plot, and colorful secondary characters. As a work of fiction set in India, it still has few equals . . . The novel has been translated by Stephanie Kraft. Her achievement here borders on the miraculous."—The Polish Review
“History and the present are well balanced in the novel: with its unusual perspective—(central) European, but situated in a barely post-colonial then-still-Third World outpost, with world-events (Hungary, Suez) all at a distance, while the local and personal are in constant tumult—Stone Tablets is a very fine novel of that time.”—The Complete Review
"A deeply satisfying and provocative exploration of both a specific era in history and the universal, timeless paradox of free will."—The Literary Review
“This fifty-year-old classic of Polish literature, the story of a Cold War Polish diplomat working in India, here gets its first English-language translation, and like a number of books on this list, I came to it completely cold—and quickly came to love it for its superb storytelling and its controlled but still delectable nostalgia.” —Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly, selected Stone Tablets as a Top Ten Translation of 2016
“A high-paced, passionate narrative in which every detail is vital.”—Leslaw Bartelski
Zukrowski is “a brilliantly talented observer of life, a visionary skilled at combining the concrete with the magical, lyricism with realism…a distinguished stylist.”—Leszek Zulinski
Stephanie Kraft's discusses translating Stone Tablets on New England Public Radio
Wojciech Zukrowski (1916–2000) was one of Poland’s best-known twentieth-century authors. A prolific novelist, screenwriter, and essayist, he was a war correspondent in Vietnam in the early 1950s, and worked at the embassy in New Delhi from 1956 to 1959. In 1996 Zukrowski won the Reymont Prize for lifetime literary achievement.
Stephanie Kraft has been a newspaper reporter and freelance writer for forty years. She is the author of No Castles on Main Street. She has been traveling to Poland since 1988, and has published translations of short Polish fiction in Metamorphoses, a journal of literary translation.