Owen Williams asks famous author, Marek Krajewski, about his latest book, pre-war Wrocław and a secret of success.

Mr Krajewski, thank you for joining us today. I enjoyed reading the four books of yours which have been translated to English. My favourite is Death in Breslau, do you have a personal favourite?
Thank you for inviting me to the interview. I am happy to hear, that you have read my books in English. Death in Breslau was written by me twenty years ago, when I was an absolute literary greenhorn. That is why I’m very glad about your opinion about this debut novel. However, my favourite is the second one, The End of The World in Breslau, because of special circumstances it was written. Namely, it was after the success of the first one in Poland, when I was writing the second one and I was very afraid of whether this success could be repeated. Metaphorically, The End of The World in Breslau was composed in the shadow of Death in Breslau. My anxiety was unfounded, the End of the World… meant a real beginning of my literary activity.

All of your translated books are in the Eberhard Mock series, but you have written others, too. Can you tell us if there are plans for the others to be translated?
Unfortunately not. I do not know why exactly. Maybe the English publisher was disappointed at selling my books, I suppose, and he made no decision to translate the others? However, I have written seventeen books (three of them with co-authors), many of them were translated into twenty European languages and I patiently have been hoping for the moment when all my crime novels will be known to English readers.

I’m also waiting for the latest, eponymously titled Mock book to be translated. What can you tell us about it?
The last novel Mock has its subtitle, Ludzkie zoo, what means Human zoo. It is a crucial point in this book, namely the ignominious, according to our point of view, zoo exhibition of living people from Africa. Human zoo was a favourite entertainment organized in many European cities at the turn of nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 1913 in Wroclaw (Breslau) as well. It was an impulse for writing my last novel. The plot is an Eberhard Mock’s investigation. His girlfriend, Maria, hears a strange noise coming from behind the walls of her flat and asks Mock to explain, what it is and where it is coming from. The explanation is horrendous and leads Mock into the very middle of the hell…

Is Eberhard Mock based on a real person? How similar is the character to yourself?
No, it is fictitious person with fictitious name. As far as I know, no Eberhard Mock has ever existed. We both – Mock and me – have similar characteristics. He is a classicist, he dislikes chaos, he is a dandy, who wears men rings and a hat – exactly like me. On the other hand, I do not share Mock’s interests in heavy drinking and smoking cigarettes – I am an absolute teetotaller and born-again non-smoker.

All of your books are set in pre-war Wrocław (Breslau). Why did you choose this time and place?
There were two reasons. First of all, the time between world war seems to be very interesting for an author of crime stories who loved and still loves watching so called films noir and reading the Raymond Chandler’s novels. My choice to describe just pre-war Wrocław was caused by something else. In the times of communism and the censorship in Poland there was hardly any possibility to find some information about the German past of the contemporary Polish counties and cities. The official measure was so: Prussian history of these areas was an unimportant episode and dealing with it would be a waste of time. In other words, the German history of Wrocław was a taboo subject. The more something is forbidden, the more fascinating it seems to be to a curious young man like I was. It is the second reason for my choice.

Before publishing your fist book, I believe you were a lecturer at Wrocław University. What inspired you to write a novel? How did your students and peers at the University react?
Yes, I was a lecturer in classical philology, strictly to say, I taught Latin grammar. After my first book had been published the reactions of colleagues and students could be boiled down to one message: the classicist and crime fiction? Unbelievable! How is it possible to abandon Homer and Virgil for pulp fiction? After a few years the academic people got used to my literary activity. As for the students however, I realized the dwindling number of my fans among them – particularly before the difficult Latin grammar test that they had to pass with me.

You now have 17 books to your name, what advice can you offer to aspiring writers such as myself?
It will be no advice to aspiring writers, it will be advice to all. My favourite Latin maxim: Quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem, which literally means Whatever you are doing, do it thoroughly and see the effect. This principle maybe will lose its obviousness, if I attempt to explain the words see the effect. In Stoic interpretation (I am very interested in today’s philosophical movement called “new stoicism”) they should be understood so: the effect can be according to your plans or not, you must regard both possibilities. So, my advice is: Whatever are you doing, do it thoroughly and with dogged perseverance and be prepared for (the possibility that) you will not succeed.

Among your awards, you were made an ambassador of Wrocław and I think it’s safe to assume you adore the city. Is there anything about the city that displeases you? What do you think could be improved here?
Yes, I adore my city which I was born in, where I am living, and that I connected all my family life with. There is something which should be changed not only in Wrocław, but in Poland and in many European countries, in my opinion. It is the availability of alcohol. Alcoholism is a tragedy of many people and – as for Wrocław – the mayor and other authorities of the city should strictly confine the dwindling number of alcohol selling shops. The Scandinavian system should be our standard.

How would you describe Wrocław in five words?
Lively, tolerant, green, European, beautiful.

Finally, if I was a character in one of your books, what would my name be in the German and Polish versions?
I have read in Wikipedia that some etymologists trace back your name Owen to ancient name Eugenius. If they are right, your name should be translated into Polish and German – Eugeniusz (diminutive: Gienek) and Eugen, respectively.

Mr Krajewski, thank you.