The Krakow Diaries

75 days in Krakow. On a literary grant from the German Kulturstiftung der Länder. In the Guesthouse of the 16th century Villa Decius, with 10 other writers from Poland, Germany, Belarussia, Ukraine and Georgia. Beautiful city. Nice Krakovians. Fun nightlife. Beautiful women. And in the guesthouse: Meetings of the minds. Too much vodka. Good friends. One of the great pleasures of my life.

Hippest Pa: Serhij Zhadan

Serhij changed radically in the last moments of his stay in the villa guesthouse.

Rumors were attached to him when he came. He was a big bestselling writer in the Ukraine. A hipster, an author of cool and dangerous novels and poetry, and a rock 'n' roll singer too. He gave a reading in the Ukraine before I arrived, but the others traveled hundreds of miles to attend it and reported to me later that he was surrounded by admiring female fans. I witnessed him in action in Krakow: He shot the words off the page as if he were a verbal machine gun, chopping the air with his hand as he did it (see below).

He was stand-offish. I learned nothing about him from himself. But one night I was talking to his fellow Ukrainian Tanja told her, as a joke, that Serjih had spoken to me about her, and said that he thought she wasn't a very good writer. Poor Tanja. Always joking, never taking anything seriously – when I said that, her face dropped, she nearly choked. It was the worst thing she had ever heard and I had trouble convincing her it was just a joke. That told me something about Serhij. But he made one false move. A few days before leaving, he showed up one morning with a young blond boy in tow: Ivan, his son. Suddenly the cool chain-smoking, cutting-edge hipster was a tender, responsible father. We watched in awe as they cooked hot dogs together. And this just in (Jan '08): His book "Anarchy in the UKR" has just been translated into German and published at Suhrkamp. Spiegel Online gave it a good review and called Zhadan a "post-proletariat punk" (here) and it's available on


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