I’m a big fan of pointing out good books that haven’t been translated, and Antonia Lloyd-Jones has a list of six that should whet translators’ appetites. I’m particularly struck by the first one, whose description makes me wish I read Polish:
1. A meticulously researched, epic historical novel set in Italy: Maciej Hen, Solfatara (WAB Foksal, 2015)
Solfatara is a dormant volcano just outside Naples. This is a historical novel, set in July 1647 in the Kingdom of Naples, over the eleven days of a popular revolt ‒ a real historical event ‒ when a new tax on fruit and other food was the final straw for the local populace, who rose up against the hated Spanish viceroy and his men. Led by a fisherman called Masaniello, it turned into a ten-day rampage of violence against the aristocracy. Of course he came to a sticky end, when his head was parted from his body.
The language is simple but sophisticated. This is Polish of the highest quality, lovely and rich. Solfatara not only pulsates with literary force, but also with the energy of the Neapolitan street.
The book has been meticulously researched, but the result is a rapidly moving adventure novel full of fabulous stories and colourful characters. It has 900 pages, and when I first saw it, I had doubts, but it kept me up until 03.00, eager for more. It’s not just the immediate time scale, describing the riots, that is vivid and thrilling, but Fortunato’s past too, his amorous misadventures as a musician among the upper echelons in Rome and Paris, and his discovery of his own dramatic origins as the son of a woman who was killed for a horrific but inevitable crime of passion.