Sociable Reading: Peirene Press presents ‘Chasing the King of Hearts’ by Hanna Krall


Event: English Pen & Peirene Press introduces ‘Chasing the King of Hearts’ by Hanna Krall.

Who: Belgravia Books, English Pen & Peirene Press

What: An evening to publicize the translation of Hanna Krall’s novella ‘Chasing the King of Hearts’

When: Tuesday 17th September 2013.

Where: The wonderful Belgravia Bookshop (sorry it’s my favourite)

Refreshments:I don’t know what it was but my friend and I enjoyed a couple of glasses of very nice red wine.

The snacks were late arriving but still appreciated in the form of salted Kettle chips and doritos (however, one must note there were some crisp bowl hoggers).


The book: “The Warsaw Ghetto 1942: When Izolda’s husband, Shayek, is imprisoned, she sets out to release him. She changes her name, her hair, her religion. Eventually she is captured and deported to Auschwitz. But even there, she trusts that her love will save them both.”

The evening began with an introduction by the lovely Meike Ziervogel, founder of Peirene Press, the publishing house tasked with producing the beautiful translation and production of Hanna Krall’s novella.

This was followed by a reading of an extract by Bryony, a recent graduate from the Oxford performing arts college, she presented us with a section early on in the book in a simple and not overly dramatic fashion. Her second reading later on in the evening was well chosen in it’s ability to capture Isolde’s, the heroine’s, true optimistic spirit when recounting a particularly dark anecdote.

The second and rather unique genre of entertainment came in the form of two young musicians who have made it their mission to produce music to represent the written word. They had crafted two short pieces to accompany the readings done by Bryony. I was a bit cynical about how this would work but I am pleased to say I was proved wrong especially in the second instance when Brahms lullaby was played to an intensely eerie effect.

It was disappointing but not surprising that Hanna Krall herself hadn’t been able to make the trip from Poland, being nearly 80 years old and all, however we were treated to an insight into her mind and motivations via professor Agata Bielik-Robson. She had been treated to an interview with Hanna Krall and we were lucky enough to hear the results.

The stand out point for me was that her idol and literary inspiration was Tadeusz Borowski, author of ‘This way for the gas chambers ladies and gentlemen’ – a book I will be reading in the very near future – and renowned for recounting the holocaust in a frank and exceptionally dry manner rather than endowing it with the heroism of favoured by most.

Secondly, it was entertaining to learn about Hanna Krall’s meeting with the real life Isolde (the book is based on a true story, although strangely promoted as fiction) especially the anecdote of when Isolde met Gregor Mendel and her first impressions of him being that he was a very good looking man, but also that he had a gap between his two front teeth and that she was very proud for remembering the scientific name for it, diastema.

Apparently, Mendel’s whole family suffered from diastema and this was why he developed an interest in genetics which developed into the sinister career he is famous for to this day.

After the second round of dramatic performances there was a Q&A whereby Meike was questioned over her novella, Magda and how she compared it to the story of Isolde. This was an interesting comparison and one answered particularly astutely by Meike explaining that it was two woman both with love at the centre of their worlds, the difference being one had love and survived and the other was desperate for love and met with tragedy.

The evening ended to great applause and another glass of red wine before my friend bought the book – she had the nerve to suggest buying it on the Kindle until she saw my look of horror – all in all another great night of literature at Belgravia bookshop.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.


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