Life Is Not Enough. Notes on Loss and Searching for Hope
published by Zwierciadło, Warsaw
When one loses one's footing
24 reportages about people who lost their footing. How does one live dishonoured? How does one live with a perspective of premature death? Having lost one's faith in another human being? In justice, in one's own worth? Some make their peace with their fate. Some try to outsmart it. Others still - fight or try to get their revenge on life. Almost all seek meaning of existence.
There are interventionist texts here (about evictions and loan agencies) and intimate reportages: about battling cancer, living with an unruly child, about elderly people who have remained children throughout their lives. The book talks about contemporary Polish people, who are an extraordinarily experienced nation.
Maciej Zaremba Bielawski, „Dagens Nyheter”
Iza Michalewicz’s “Life is Not Enough” reportage collection is reviewed by Elżbieta Sawicka
Iza Michalewicz’s reportages are not particularly intricate in their form, they lack spectacular ideas or literary ornaments. They are seemingly simple stories. Economical, raw, with no sentimentalism. But once and again they leave a lump in your throat.
Twenty-four stories about people who lost their footing, who are affected by loss of health, child, home, honour, freedom, love, faith in justice, in themselves, in other people. Most often undeservedly. Due to fate. But is that the only reason?
In the preface to her book Iza Michalewicz writes that most of her reportages were created “out of disagreement with the reality. Out of the need to tame, explain.” A part of the reality that the reporter disagrees with is our social reality. The texts describe contemporary Poles that have gone through particularly traumatic experiences. She tells Polish stories, although sometimes she crosses the borders. In her “Inaczej niż w raju” [Different from a Paradise] she focuses on Ireland, where Poles go to find jobs and sometimes come back in urns (a coffin is more costly for the family). “They come to the Emerald Isle with great ambitions and even greater expectations which clash with the local reality that is really hard and that they have not been aware of. They are affected by depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism, they steal or they try to take their own lives. The Polish embassy in Dublin has recently started to run suicide statistics.
The mass emigration of young people results in the dissolution of family bonds, divorce, children that are left behind (“Po prostu żegnaj” [Simply Goodbye]). Children are looked after by their grandparents and some of them end up in orphanages. They suffer trauma. “A teenager that was being brought up in Cracow by his grandmother hang himself as he missed his parents who had gone to work in the UK. He wrote about it in his farewell note.”
The heroes of those reportages are just like that – shattered, affected by misfortune, unable to cope with loneliness or rejection. Helpless in a new reality. Sometimes they are on a hopeless quest to survive when a real estate developer or a new tenement house owner tries to rid them of all their rights (“Zakochaj się w Warszawie” [Fall in Love with Warsaw], “Jolanta i ogień” [Jolanta and Fire] – about the unexplained death of Jolanta Brzeska). Sometimes it is a struggle to restore reputation and honour tarnished by Wildstein’s list (“To nie ja byłam Ewą” [I Was Not Eve]. The reportages also feature “freaks” that live with a feeling of maladjustment, as in the case of transsexuals or hermaphrodites (“Jestem elfem” [I’m an Elf]). Stories of mothers taking care of children with Down’s or Asperger’s syndrome whose life expectancy has been on the rise are particularly moving.
The list of serious cases is longer: People infected with HIV due to a blood donor centre’s fault, families of unfound crime victims who cannot go through a mourning process, juvenile killers, whom no-one has taught how to tell good from evil. Writing about them requires exceptional empathy. And Iza Michalewicz has it.