Michal Witkowski’s Love Town is a Literary, Lyrical Homage to Sleaze.

Posted on November 30, 2012
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Amidst all the successes of the worldwide struggle for LGBT rights, something has undeniably been lost. What that ‘something’ is can be difficult to define, but perhaps the best word for it might simply be, “sleaze.” The etymology of the word “sleaze” is unclear. William Safire has speculated that it might be derived from Silesia: a poor mining town in Poland.  If so, perhaps it’s appropriate that Michal Witkowski’s new book, Love Town takes place just 155 miles away–in Warsaw. And this is not the gleaming Warsaw of today. Rather it is the shabby communist Warsaw of the nineteen eighties. The Soviet occupied Poland Mr. Wiktowski renders here is gone and on balance that is a good thing. But Love Town is a celebration of what has been lost.  It is a literary, frequently humorous and occasionally lyrical celebration of sleaze.

The transgender characters in this book hustle, shoplift and drink from bottles labelled:  RED WINE.  They are nobody’s role models.  Their own role model is Alexis Carrington from the TV show Dynasty.  Their daily goal and life’s ambition is to steal away forbidden sex from “grunts”:  their name for big burly ostensibly straight men who are frequently Russian soldiers–occupiers.

Love Town isn’t so much a novel as a series of interconnected stories.  The plot such as it is derives from the history: the queens confront AIDS, the end of the Soviet occupation and at last the contemporary, “liberated” gays.  Their contempt for them is hilarious.  But beneath the humor there is a surprising poignancy.  As one of the characters puts it:

How do we get by?  Well, it’s hard.  First, you’re lonely your whole life. Second, you’re poor, you’re on the outside, retired beyond the pale of reality.  Even the young ones, they’re on the outside, too.  Doubly marginal: first, you’re poor; second, you’re a poofter.  So you have to create your own world.  It’s true.  The first part of your life you’re bent on finding someone to spend the rest of your life with.  But it’s not exactly easy, especially in times like these.  And then there’s wanting to be someone important, to be someone…Later on you get used to being alone, to being a no one.  And that’s where the fun begins.

Part of the fun of the book, I suspect, is the translation from the original Polish by W. Martin.  I have no way of knowing how accurate this translation is.  But the language just seems right to me.

Michal Witkowski’s Love Town is published by Portobello Books.

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