Michal Witkowski rams the gates of nostalgia in his debut novel Lovetown, whose aging gay characters in Poland have the cheek to hanker for the bad old days behind the Iron Curtain. Oh, they were so much younger then, and had no trouble scoring with the inexhaustible supply of Russian soldiers. These gents go by the names "Patricia" and "Lucretia" and they scandalize the gay journalist interviewing them, a newbie who is at once more free and more uptight than they ever were. They complain, "No one has any sense of filth or wrongdoing; it's all about having fun."
Surprisingly for a rad queer novel, Lovetown was longlisted last year with work from Orhan Pamuk, David Grossman, and Per Petterson for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. So far it's been published in 12 languages.
"The dark, postmodernist wit of this transformation places the reader in a quandary. Is she or he to join the party, or to watch it from a safe distance?...
"In one cruel and deliciously unreasonable passage a buffed-up muscle-boy (hobbies: monogamy and civil rights) corners the journalist and demands to know why he isn't writing the kind of novel that young gay men such as himself enjoy these days – socially responsible ones about monogamy and civil rights. Turning on this hapless representative of bourgeois "liberation" the full linguistic force of his anti-heroines' scorn, Witkowski makes it clear that contemporary culture abandons at its peril the heritage of survival tactics which his queens cultivated through the dark years. Faced with exclusion and brutality, they kept themselves alive through an unholy marriage of desperation and imagination, constructing an alternative reality that could teach the younger generation a thing or two about empowerment. Or, as a queen called Paula puts it more succinctly in the novel's closing pages: "So take that darling, and put that in one pan of the scales, and in the other put all those gay bars of yours."