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the Complete Review
the complete review - travel


Andrzej Stasiuk

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To purchase Fado

Title: Fado
Author: Andrzej Stasiuk
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 156 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: Fado - US
Fado - UK
Fado - Canada
Fado - France
Fado - Deutschland
  • Polish title: Fado
  • Translated by Bill Johnston

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Our Assessment:

B+ : loose, agreeable collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 30/5/2008 Stefanie Peter
NZZ . 31/5/2008 Jdl.
New Statesman . 12/11/2009 Daniel Trilling
TLS . 2/4/2010 Julian Evans

  From the Reviews:
  • "Stets auf dem schmalen Grat zwischen nostalgischem Kitsch und schlichtem Kulturpessimismus wandelnd, lehnt der Autor ab, was mit Medien, Beschleunigung und Vernetzung zu tun hat." - Stefanie Peter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Was bleibt, ist Mythografie, und auf diesem Gebiet zeigt sich Stasiuk einmal mehr als ein Experte, der mit grosser stilistischer Kraft schreibt. Seine Reiseskizzen leben von ihren starken Bildern." - Jdl., Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(H)e writes a slow, meditative prose that allows him to perceive the ancient rhythms under this constant change." - Daniel Trilling, New Statesman

  • "Fado sometimes reads as a casual collection of sketches and essays more than a single travelogue, while nonetheless arriving at a unity of kilometres covered and meditations completed. Integral to the reader's pleasure is the wildly contrarian spirit of those meditations, which revel in speculation and a constant pendulum movement between ideas and objects. (...) Stasiuk is a stylist with a pleasing sarcasm to his introspection." - Julian Evans, Times Literary Supplement
  • "Fado (a style of mournful Portuguese song) consists of a series of complex, polished essays and feuilletons about the neglected interstices, voids and wastelands of central and eastern Europe, particularly in the areas surrounding Stasiuk's home in the Carpathian mountains. (...) Forget about foreigners speaking of foreign lands, Fado made me wish that in Britain we had an author who could write so acutely about our own ancient landscape and its peoples." - Daniel Kalder, The Guardian Books Blog (2/11/2009)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Andrzej Stasiuk doesn't venture to Portugal on his travels, but Fado is suffused by a fadoesque melancholy. The short pieces collected in this volume focus on the more or less lost corners of Central and Eastern Europe -- such as the Carpathians, where he has lived for some two decades --, where much is still tired, old, and decaying.
       Stasiuk quotes Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych (see, for example, his Perverzion), that it is an ideal region for a writer to come from, because:

he can tell the most outrageous stories about his country and his part of the continent, he can spin the most fantastical tales, present them as God's honest truth, and then simply rest on his laurels, since his stories will never be subject to verification -- partly because his audience suspects that in his part of the world anything at all can really happen, but also partly because, for this audience, the very existence of that region is highly problematic and already resembles a literary fiction.
       Stasiuk isn't much of a man of the future, and that works well for him here, as he reflects on what he has seen and doesn't try too hard to wonder what might or will be:
I wake up each morning and wait for events to recede into the past. It's only then that they come into focus, only then that they acquire some meaning. The future is a big vacuum. It contains nothing, and can excite only science fiction fans, Marxists, capitalists, or aging spinsters. Only that which is past exists, because it possesses its own for; it's palpable, tangible, and in a certain sense it saves us from madness, from mental annihilation.
       There's an almost comfortable lack of ambition -- to see sights or experience events that are grand or overwhelming --, which he has long embraced. Typically:
For some time Yugoslavia captivated my imagination almost as powerfully as America. But America was too far away, too unreal, and had been thoroughly exploited from the point of view of the imagination. What can be thought about New York or California, when these places have been touched by every conceivable idea ? Can you imagine somewhere that everyone has already traveled to in their dreams ? Hardly anyone, on the other hand -- I reasoned -- had traveled to Yugoslavia. At least in their dreams.
       So that's what Stasiuk does, dreaming of -- and traveling to -- Yugoslavia, and Slovakia, and Romania, and the like. And he's not looking for the signs of modernization or anything like that. He visits and reports on places like cemeteries, or:
I dream of crumbling watchtowers amid bleak scenery, and cyclists wheeling their rusty bikes across a hilly country between towns whose names can be pronounced in at least three different languages; I dream of horse-drawn carts, and of people, and food, and hybrid landscapes and all the rest.
       What's so striking is his love of and fascination with these conditions. He sees the poverty, too, but to him it is not miserable, or at least far from only miserable:
     The extreme poverty there was turning into something like a metaphor. I'd never seen such a blighted place where life was still being live so normally.
       And for him, for example, Romania is:
A land from the Thousand and One Nights. Nothing is self-evident here, and anything can turn out to be something else. This country, so proud of its past, continues to pretend.
       Stasiuk revels in these peculiar fairytale-land places that still pretend, and he captures them well in his short, quick pieces.
       The collection as a whole is a fairly loose one, jumping from one place to the next. It also includes reflections about his daughter growing up, and glimpses of the (Communist) past he lived through -- his time in jail, or the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland in 1979, for example. A tighter focus might have been preferable, but none of the pieces feel terribly out of place.
       Very approachable and often insightful, Stasiuk offers a surprisingly cheery glimpse of parts of Europe that are rarely heard about in Fado. An enjoyable little collection.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 November 2009

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Fado: Reviews: Andrzej Stasiuk: Other books by Andrzej Stasiuk under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Andrzej Stasiuk was born in 1960.

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© 2009-2021 the complete review

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