Choucas by Zofia NalkowskaChoucas by Zofia Nalkowska


byZofia NalkowskaTranslated byUrsula Phillips

Paperback | May 31, 2014

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The novel in Europe in the early 20th century took a decidedly inward turn, and Choucas (1927) is an intriguing example of the modernist psychological tradition. Its author, Zofia Nalkowska (1884–1954), was a celebrated Polish novelist and playwright. She rose to prominence in interwar Poland and was one of a group of early feminist writers that included Pola Gojawiczynska, Maria Dabrowska, and Maria Kuncewiczowa. 

Choucas is set in the Swiss Alps in the mid-1920s in a sanatoria village near Lake Geneva. The book has an international focus, and the narrator, a polish woman, profiles a motley collection of visitors to the village and patients at the sanatorium and their interactions with each other. Among these she encounters Armenian survivors of the 1915–16 genocide who were given refuge in Switzerland. The characters are all from different countries and each represents a distinct political or religious point of view. The title is derived from the French word for a species of bird native to this region of Switzerland. Nalkowska was known for her love of nature and animals, and the birds have symbolic significance for the characters themselves. The choucas fly down from the mountain passes seeking food, while some of the characters in the novel wander around the sanatorium seeking philosophical truths. 

In Choucas, there is a strong autobiographical element to the story, as Nalkowska had stayed in a sanatorium in Leysin, Switzerland, with her husband in 1925. A comparison may also be drawn with the classic novel by Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924), which has similar themes. The book delineates a fascinating time period, and the author’s concise fictional technique is strikingly innovative and groundbreaking. Choucas is a fine example of early modernist literature and is translated for the first time into English for a new generation of readers.
Ursula Phillips is a translator of both literary and academic works and a writer on Polish literature. Her most recent translation, the novel The Heathen by Narcyza Zmichowska, is also published by Northern Illinois University Press. Zofia Nalkowska (1884 - 1954) was a celebrated Polish novelist and playwright. She rose to prominence i...
Title:ChoucasFormat:PaperbackDimensions:200 pages, 8.75 × 6.35 × 0.4 inPublished:May 31, 2014Publisher:Northern Illinois University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0875807070

ISBN - 13:9780875807072

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Editorial Reviews

“[A] subtle and satisfying translation.” —The Times Literary Supplement "In taking us back to a world that is long gone, Choucas throws into relief much of the ranting and rhetoric of our own times. I closed the book feeling that I had been transported to a dream-like but strangely familiar setting, an unsettling sensation that has left me wanting to read more of Nalkowska’s work." —European Literature Network “This is a welcome translation of one of the better-known Polish modernist novels, which reveals a supreme depth about intersubjective relations, while sustaining insight into the characters mostly through their words and gestures. The generally non-intruding and nonspeculative aspect of the narrator, who does not claim any responsibility and relies on her seemingly superficial observations, brings to mind the behavorist method as the main representation of the character’s psychology.”—Bozena Shallcross, University of Chicago “The characters’ stories and their views on specific nations lead Nalkowska to explore the psychological sources of nationalism. Their nationalism is not ideological or rooted in political doctrine. It is, rather, a mishmash of stereotypical images of other nations, as well as emotional schemata that are not grounded in personal experience. Even as they suffer from deadly diseases, the characters fail to realize that their nationalism is an affliction too.” —Wlodzimierz Bolecki, Institute of Literary Research, Polish Academy of Sciences