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Waiting for the Dog to Sleep: Short Fiction

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Waiting for the Dog to Sleep: Short Fiction
by Jerzy Ficowski
translated by Soren A. Gauger & Marcin Piekoszewski
Twisted Spoon Press, Prague, May 2006

The much admired poet, translator, and scholar Jerzy Ficowski's only collection of prose. In these short stories and sketches Ficowski reinterprets a question posed by the writer most central to his work, Bruno Schulz, about the mythologization of reality. For Schulz, fiction was a way of turning the quotidian into the fantastical and eternal. Ficowski's prose seems to reinterpret this approach in addressing the sense of loss and the bleak landscape of postwar Poland. Effortlessly weaving memory, religious ritual, daily life, and the magical, he hints at a sinister presence lurking behind these dreamlike tales—a trace of ruin or disintegration always present as the narrator repeatedly struggles to link some aspect of a past that has been annihilated with a present that is foreign and hostile.

The late Jerzy Ficowski (1924 – 2006) was Poland’s most distinguished expert on Roma culture and history and its foremost authority on the work of poet and painter Bruno Schulz. He was a translator who worked in several languages, including Yiddish, Roma, and Russian. His ca. 20 books of poetry include A Reading of Ashes, a moving account of the Holocaust. Ficowski is perhaps most widely known for his landmark work on Schulz, Regions of the Great Heresy first published by the Borderland Foundation in 2002 and then in English by Norton in 2003. Ficowski also edited The Collected Works of Bruno Schulz.

Born in Warsaw, Ficowski fought in the Home Army during the German occupation, and in the 1970s joined the dissident organization KOR (Workers’ Defense Committee). His passionate research in Roma culture resulted in the book, Gypsies in Poland: History and Customs. On his 75th birthday in 1999 Ficowski was the first to be awarded the title of Borderlander by the Borderland Foundation, which has published several volumes of his work, most recently Mistrz Manole i inne przeklady (Maestro Manole and Other Translations) in 2004, a comprehensive collection of his translations of Romanian folk poetry, Russian poems of the Polish poet Boleslaw Lesmian, Jewish poetry, poems of Federico Garcia Lorca, love-poetry from Dubrovnik, and the poems of Papusza - a Polish Gypsy singer. In 2005 Ficowski was honored by "Literatura na Swiecie" magazine (World Literature) for his life’s work in translation. The news of his death on May 9 came almost simultaneously with the publication of Waiting for the Dog to Sleep.

Other works available in English by Jerzy Ficowski include:
  • The collected Works of Bruno Schulz (editor, Feb. 2003)
  • Regions of the Great Heresy: Bruno Schulz – a Biographical Portrait (Nov. 2001, Nov. 2002, Apr. 2004)
  • Drawings of Bruno Schulz (Nov. 1990)
  • Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz: With Selected Prose (Nov. 1988, Jun. 1990)
  • Sister of the Birds and Other Gypsy Tales (Aug. 1976)
  • The Gypsies in Poland: History and Customs
  • Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles (Introduction and translation, Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics, Mar. 1992)
  • They Don’t Ring at the Bernardines’, in: Chicago Review, December 31, 2005
  • Window to the World, in: Chicago Review, December 31, 2005
  • Intermission, in: Chicago Review, December 31, 2005)