Malmö, Sweden. A cellist meets a spun-out junkie. That could have been me. His mind starts to glitch between his memories and the avant-garde music he loves, and he descends into his past, hearing all over again the chaotic song of his youth. He emerges to a different sound, heading for a crash.
From sprawling housing projects to underground clubs and squat parties, Wretchedness is a blistering trip through the underbelly of Europe’s cities. Powered by a furious, unpredictable beat, this is a paean to brotherhood, to those who didn’t make it however hard they fought, and a visceral indictment of the poverty which took them.
Andrzej Tichý was born in Prague to a Polish mother and a Czech father. He has lived in Sweden since 1981. The author of five novels, two short story collections and a wide range of non-fiction and criticism, Tichý is widely recognised as one of the most important novelists of his generation. Wretchedness (Eländet) was shortlisted for the 2016 August Prize and won the 2018 Eyvind Johnson Prize.
A translator of Swedish and Norwegian literature, Nichola Smalley is also publicist at And Other Stories and an escaped academic – in 2014 she finished a PhD at UCL exploring the use of contemporary urban vernaculars in Swedish and UK rap and literature. Her translations range from Jogo Bonito by Henrik Brandão Jönsson (Yellow Jersey Press), a Swedish book about Brazilian football, to the latest novel by Norwegian superstar Jostein Gaarder, An Unreliable Man (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).
Nichola Smalley is a translator of Swedish and
Norwegian literature. Her translation of Andrzej Tichý’s novel Wretchedness
won the 2021 Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize, and was longlisted for the 2021
International Booker Prize and shortlisted for the 2021 Bernard Shaw Prize.
"Graphic depictions of crime, racism, poverty, drug use and violence are rendered through paragraph-free slabs of text that propulsively veer between voices and minds, times and locations. As well as the Swedish estates, the novel draws on Tichý’s experiences of living in Hamburg and London to paint a picture of a pan-European community of the excluded passing through squats, underground clubs, petty scams and cash-only employment. [...] Tichý’s early creative life centered on music and there is a sense of musicality inherent Wretchedness." —Nicholas Wroe, Guardian
‘Wretchedness is a social novel whose descent into hardship is haunting, and whose lead character is an example of the hazy line between surviving a lifestyle or falling prey to it.’ Foreword Reviews
‘Visceral . . . a fascinating read, the real-life details of which further bolster the fiction . . . This is nightmarish, impressionistic literature whose disjointed sentences have an associative flow that accumulates to a shocking whole.’ Sarah Gilmartin, Irish Times
‘The polyphony of voices is tightly interwoven . . . arranged into a narrative resembling a complex musical composition . . . The book ends abruptly, as an avant-garde piece of music might, but the vibrations continue to fill the air.’ Anna Aslanyan, The Guardian
‘A blurry tornado of voices and timelines, this short novel unspools over eight paragraphs of run-on sentences swirling around the memories of a cellist raised on an estate outside Malmö . . . the novel builds to an unexpectedly heart-stopping . . . finale, with a frame-breaking time-slip that invites us to reconsider everything we’ve just read as a stylistically radical expression of survivor’s guilt.’ Anthony Cummins, Book of the Day, The Observer
"An utterly phenomenal read: a masterclass in hyper-modernist experimentation, voice and form. Embracing the bitter realities of addiction, prejudice and inner-city turmoil, Tichý’s rapid prose roves internal dialogues, places, vernaculars and circumstances to expose a singular, absorbed world struggling to keep itself afloat. Through a complex network of characters, friends and strangers we’re made to think about the ways the human spirit can fall into despair, its ability to establish resolve, to love and remember, and the myriad philosophies it leaves us with."—Anthony Anaxagorou
“What can a survivor do with their history? Can you be loyal to the friends you left behind? Andrzej Tichý turns this wretched reality into something poignant. His polyphonic novel has a rough, rhythmic melody and a ferocious rage.”—August Prize Judges
“Tichý writes a delirious, detailed prose, studded with Malmö slang and contemporary verve. The language pours forth over the pages like a contaminated river, full of filth, despair and anxiety, an associative flow of long, disjointed, almost endless sentences.” —Eva Johansson, Svenska Dagbladet
"Wretchedness is a wild intoxicant of language, momentum, and voice. Andrzej Tichý is a master of despair." —Patty Yumi Cottrell
"Some kind of holy/unholy meeting of Thomas Bernhard and The Geto Boys, Wretchedness is an anguished, brutal, beautiful piece of phantasmagoric-realism, an act of remembrance through imagination, animated by rhythm, and pouring past you with the inevitability of the tide coming in. Brilliantly written, superbly translated, this small book packs in more sadness and moments of epiphany, more hopelessness and hope, more surviving - more life! - than most writers manage in a whole career. Remarkable." —Will Ashon
"The past is so close behind in Nichola Smalley’s translation of Tichý’s precise maelstrom of memory, music and survival – on the margins of this and every city – that you can smell the chemicals on its breath. There’s nothing to lose and too much to lose; no escape and all our escapes. Keep going. Read it and be thankful for Andrzej Tichý." —Tony White
"A bravura, urgent head-trip of a novel, replete with compassion, rage, and gimlet-eyed observation on every page. Essential reading - us English-speakers are lucky to have Tichy’s work available in translation at last." —Luke Kennard
"A powerful, voice-driven novel that remains in the mind long after the final page. Tichý brings everything to life: circumstances and people we’d rather ignore, with a flow resembling music." —Derek Owusu
"The pleasures of this book are immediate, brilliant and deeply unreasonable. Every person and every thought is intensely present. It demeans nothing." —Caleb Klaces
"Wretchedness is a red-blooded ode to the most invisible and unwanted in society - immigrant workers, the homeless, addicts, and those born into the hardest of circumstances. Tichý’s gasping, polyphonic prose flies through time and space and drug-induced states, flinging us between disturbing recollections, hopeless presents, and deferred or tainted futures - all connected by bittersour camaraderies and the remedying power of music." —Jen Calleja