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From Letters to Hrabal

by Pawel Huelle
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Serpent's Tail, London, February 2006

Mercedes-Benz is both an autobiographical novel illustrated with family photographs, and a captivating homage to Bohumil Hrabal, written in the form of a letter to the late Czech writer. In the expressively visual style of Hrabal himself, Pawel Huelle tells the stories of three generations in Poland, from its pre-war independence through the communist years to the free-market uncertainties of Huelle's youth – all through the idiosyncratic lens of automobile ownership. Writing as if to Hrabal, he describes his adventures learning to drive in the early 90s, and within that framework tells the young lady instructor engaging anecdotes about his grandparents and their Mercedes before the war, when chasing hot-air balloons by car seemed great fun until anti-aircraft fire burst the bubble, the Soviets confiscated the Mercedes, and his grandfather was sent to Auschwitz. A good-natured critique of some of the ambiguities of Poland’s post-war and post-communist progress.

“Quirky, thoughtful and often poetic, it opens a subjective and fascinating window on to the recent past." – The Times of London

“Gritty, graceful stories of a war-blasted generation” – Boston Globe

“Tender, beautiful written and puzzling” – The New York Times

Pawel Huelle is a novelist, playwright, journalist, and a columnist for Gazeta Wyborcza. His fiction draws on autobiographical elements and especially pays homage to his hometown of Gdansk, where he has lived most of his life. He is the author of two collections of short stories and two novels, one of which, Who Was David Weiser?, was short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and has been turned into a film. His latest novel Castorp was published in Poland in 2004.