Outside my place of work there sits a hot dog vendor
. She is Polish
, has a masters degree
and speaks four languages
. I talked with her many times about many things
"What is your favorite book?" she asks me today.
It's an impossible question. My answer changes everytime I answer it, depending on my mood and what's on my mind.
"I don't know," I say, "but 'One Day in the Life' is definitely near the top."
"It's too short for a favorite book," she says.
"I like short books," is my response, "because they're accessible. I think critics just like long books because they feel proud of having read them."
"Very sad about Solzhenitsyn," she says.
"About the Gulag?" I ask stupidly.
She gives me a look that lets me know I'm toeing the line of publicly acceptable speech by even naming the place. "Гулаг," she corrects me.
"Goo-agh?" I say.
"Close enough. And no, I meant about him going insane."
I just nod. I didn't know he had.
"You read so many books from Eastern Europe," she says. We've talked many times before about Dostoyevsky and Stanislaw Lem. "Don't you like any books written in your own language?"
"Sure," I say, "Salinger," (knowing she's a fan), "Joseph Heller..."
She grimaces when I say Heller's name.
"You don't like Heller?" I ask.
"No, 'Catch 22' is a fine book, very literate," (I don't know if she means "literary" or if it's a sly insult), "but I don't know why everyone reads war books by Americans. What do they know about the war?"
"Ok," I acknowledge, "what is a good Polish war story?"
"You must read 'Ashes and Diamonds' by Andrzejewski. It is a classic. And it tells the truth, the real war. Also, there is a very excellent novella, very new. (She says the title in Polish). But I do not think there is yet an English translation."
"You should do a translation," I joke, "you could bring it here with you and work on it during the lulls."
"No," she says flatly, "I can not because I do not speak English."