Gdynia without makeup in the novel “Cathersis”. Interview with writer Maciej Siembieda Kultura Service

May 2, 2022 at 4:00 pm.

Maciej Siembieda masterfully uses elements from true stories, combining them with exciting plots. It would be similar in his latest novel, “Charge”.

Photography by Renata Dibrovska

– We know Gdynia before the war like the moon. on one hand. Most often you can see the bright face of the city “from the sea and dreams”, but in the darkness of poverty and crime there is a completely different reality. I invite you to take a walk along the trails of disappointed hopes and the birth of crime in the first Polish port on the Baltic Sea, to see Gdynia without propaganda make-up – so Maciej Simpeda, a writer who has lived in Sopot for many years, announces his latest book. Premiere of “Katharsis” (published by Agora) on May 18th. We talk about epics, smuggling, about the different faces of Gdynia.

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Massej Simpeda He made his debut as a thriller writer in 2017 with a novel “444” (This is the first volume of the popular series about Jacob Kania) and immediately joined the group of bestselling authors. A year later, a sequel was released – “location and name”. However, Sempeda was no novice, having previously worked as a journalist and reporter for 30 years, dealing with historical journalistic investigations. Three times he was awarded the prize of the Association of Polish Journalists, considered the “Polish Pulitzer”.

In his books (“Maneuver”, “Tom”, “Kukui”) He masterfully uses elements of realistic stories, combining them with exciting plots. It will be similar in the latest novel “Katharsis”, where the starting point is historical fact dressed in the guise of exciting fantasy. It is a Polish-Greek epic that takes place over 60 years ago (from 1927 to 1990) and leads us from Thessaloniki to Gdynia, from the island of Wolin to Belgrade and from Wroclaw to Cairo …

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Magdalena Raczek: Your latest novel, Katharsis, is an epic. I once said that writing an epic story was a dream come true. Why is epic an important and interesting genre?

Massej Simpeda: Passion for the epic came from…shock. Several years ago, I had to go to the hospital for an uninteresting examination of the gastrointestinal tract. Three days without food, only water. I thought: How can I take it? I start acting rudely three hours after eating, and an empty stomach is making me go crazy. what should be done? And suddenly epiphany: reading. Then maybe I can do it somehow. I took the thickest book I had on the shelf at the time, that’s it Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. A story that makes me forget how and when the three days of hunger passed, including the nights. I came back healthy in my body and fell ill with the epics. I’ve read about 20 since then, including all of the Follett templates.

In one of the books you will find the destinies of heroes spread over 63 years – from the 1920s to the 1990s. Which of these contracts is the closest to you that you wrote about of your own volition?

If I had a time machine with the only option for a decade, I would have visited the 1920s, and that sounds very tempting to me. Peaceful but also crazy. Organized, yet naive, in turning your head away from the evil that was growing in Russia just like a political malignancy. Elegant and luxurious. But it is easier for me to write about the times when I lived and remember them, though for many of my readers they are as far away as the fall of the Bastille. I mean the ’60s, which I see through my childhood rose-glasses and seem relaxed to me, even though they were faint and bleak. And the ’70s, which I’ve been observing in a more conscious and mature way.

Let’s tell more about the heroes of the book. They will be Polish and Greek (Greek immigrants). How did the Greeks find themselves in Poland?

When the civil war in Greece ended, in the fall of 1949, the Polish government decided to help the revolutionaries who were losing their last battles there. They were soldiers from the left army fighting against the royalist forces who wanted a monarchy and conservative – whatever the bush – fascist Greece. It was a cruel, savage, savage and absurd war. The left Greeks, who during the occupation fought with the Germans and Italians side by side with the English, now had against each other not only the same Italians and English, but also against their brothers (by the way, many of them served in the Waffen SS) . Poland could not provide them with military assistance, because Stalin did not intervene in the conflict, but at least accepted the refugees. Sound familiar? At the end of July 1949, the ship “Kociuszko” transformed into a floating hospital, landed in Świnoujście at the highest secret. On board, more than 700 wounded rebels were repaired at a secret hospital on Wolin Island. None of them, because subsequent sea and land transports reached Poland for another two years. A total of 12 thousand. People, although some estimate that 14 thousand. Some settled in the Bieszczady Mountains, the rest in Lower Silesia, especially in Zgorzelec. We stayed a little in Gdynia, as ships from Albania and Romania were also arriving with Greeks on board.

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“Katharsis” by Messige Simpeda

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One of the heroes is Sacharina, a smuggler from Gdynia in the 1930s who became the king of the black market – did this character really exist, or did someone inspire you?

The character of Skrein is fictional, but many of the smuggling plots are real.

Gdynia appears again on the pages of your novel. Let us remind you that the hero of your previous books – Jacob Kania – comes from here. What fascinates you most about this city?

I know Gdynia very well, I have lived there for several years and have a great fondness for it. I love cities that are character, exciting, and mysterious. One that has many faces and can be explored. Gdynia doesn’t have stunning architecture, the Eiffel Tower, Cologne cathedral, or Gaudí’s houses, but it does have a fascinating history and an adventure in observing the city, which to me is one of the most interesting places in Poland.

So let’s talk about the dark side of Gdynia. She told me recently that it was “a city of dashed hopes” and that it “was a breeding ground for crime – prostitution, robbery, robbery and smuggling”.

Well, not everyone who came here from Poland after the partition got a well-paid job in the construction of a port and lived in comfortable apartments in modern apartment houses. The legend “City of the Sea and Dreams” effectively covers a completely different face of Gdynia at that time. The misery of neighborhoods where those who failed were intertwined. Places like Budapest or Droniana Warsaw were slums, squalid, unhygienic and hopeless. Evil is born there as if in an incubator. The fact that the city was built from scratch created ideal conditions for the development of crime. The second catalyst was unemployment, and the third was the port, because port cities always had a dubious reputation. There was also a fourth catalyst in Gdynia – the border with the Free City of Gdansk. A unique smuggling opportunity which blooms here like flowers in a warm greenhouse.

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Through Kulibki, where was the border crossing, supposedly all smuggled? How does it look?

Through Kulibki and Kameni Potok, hundreds of meters from my house, foodstuffs and necessities were smuggled on a large scale, but also cocaine, ether, morphine and … saccharin, which one of the heroes nicknamed “Cathharsis”. Interestingly, the smuggling of sweeteners was punished with more severe penalties than drugs, because it was a crime against Poland’s raison d’être. The Second Republic of Poland monopolized sugar, earned money on sugar, and saccharin – 500 times sweeter than sugar – spoiled this business very much. Gdynia’s criminal history is really cool. I remember reading about the “Bagienne Bojach” – a gang of young bandits before the war, children in fact. They were active in the port area and were extremely dangerous. And at the same time elusive, because the marshes that stretched towards the Obłue were their shelter. The police were afraid to go there.

The fourth part of the novel takes us to Gdynia after the war. How did the city recover after the war and how did it flourish in the time of the Polish People’s Republic? Apparently, it was one of the most important places when it came to trade and access to foreign goods brought into the country by sailors?

It was exactly so. Almost every day I drive through the former ‘Zegkowo’, a single family home property in Orłowo. It’s those boxes with flat tops. It was built by Polish ocean lines and then sold to sailors who could afford it. Why can they afford it? And why “Zegkowo”? The answer to both questions is simple: the sailors had good salaries, often in foreign currencies, but they were paid much better by bringing things that were missing to Gdynia in the sad landscape of the trade of the People’s Republic of Poland. For many years, watches in the first place. All Poland used to come to Gdynia to get it, and the market halls of today’s Wójta Radtkego Street were bursting at the seams. You can buy anything here. from where? from smuggling. It was a pocket of another world, another fact. A land that makes dreams, if dreams follow a huge budget. I invite you to those Gdynia in “Katharsis”, where she proposes an imaginary tour of places that we know only through rumors and stories.

Premiere of “Katharsis” on May 18th. The book is now available for pre-sale. You can buy it here.

Massej Simpeda Born on April 28, 1961 in Starachowice, Polish writer and reporter. Polish philologist and political scientist by education (PhD). Three-time winner of the “Polish Pulitzer”, i.e. the prize of the Association of Polish Journalists in the reportage category. He has been conducting historical investigative journalism for 30 years. He published, inter alia, in “Kultura”, “Polityka”, “Odra” and “Tygodnik Kulturalny” based in Paris. Editor-in-chief of several Polish regional newspapers, including “Dziennik Bałtycki”. He devoted several years of research to the mystery of Jan Matejko’s painting “The Baptism of Władysław Warneńczyk”. The novel “444” (2017) is their result, combining historical truth and literary fiction, the limits of which are beyond recognition. This is the first volume in the series on Jacob Kania. The following items are: “Place and Name” (2018), “Wotum” (2020), and “Kukły” (2021). Siembieda is also the author of the novel “Gambit” (2019) and a collection of press reports titled “Afternoon Tea to Torture”. He lived in Gdynia for several years and now lives in Sopot.

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