Winner of the 2021 Found in Translation Award
First published in Polish in 1932, The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma was Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz’s breakout novel. Dyzma is an unemployed clerk who crashes a swanky party, where he makes an offhand crass remark that sets him on a new course. Soon high society—from government ministers to drug-fueled aristocrats—wants a piece of him. As Dyzma’s status grows, his vulgarity is interpreted as authenticity and strength. He is unable to comprehend complicated political matters, but his cryptic responses are celebrated as wise introspection. His willingness to do anything to hold on to power—flip-flopping on political positions, inventing xenophobic plots, even having enemies assaulted—only leads to greater success.
Dołęga-Mostowicz wrote his novel in a newly independent Poland rampant with political corruption and populist pandering. Jerzy Kosinski borrowed heavily from the novel when he wrote Being There, and readers of both books will recognize similarities between their plots. This biting political satire—by turns hilarious and disturbing, contemptuous and sympathetic—is an indictment of a system in which money and connections matter above all else, bluster and ignorance are valorized, and a deeply incompetent man rises to the highest spheres of government.
The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma
“Those with knowledge of Polish letters have long awaited a translation of Dołęga-Mostowicz’s classic satire, an all-too-timely tale of a boor’s rise to power, whose crudeness is understood as candor, whose ignorance is taken as wisdom, and whose ambition is unmatched. Thomas and Malachowska-Pasek have masterfully conveyed the absurd humor, rollicking story, and biting critique of the original.” —Daniel W. Pratt, contributor to Gombrowicz in Transnational Context: Translation, Affect, and Politics
“Very few books or characters become proverbial. But The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma is a byword in Polish culture for the accidental rise of an opportunistic swindler to the heights of society and politics. This entertaining novel from interwar Poland remains instructive beyond its context today.” —Stanley Bill, translator of The Mountains of Parnassus by Czesław Miłosz
“The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma is still alive, not only as a good read but also as an essential historical document of 1930s Europe and as a trans-historical political satire with immense potential for contemporary readers . . . Cultural historians, political aficionados, and literature lovers will all find something very seductive about the book.” —Michał Paweł Markowski, author of Wars of Modern Tribes: Fighting for Reality in the Age of Populism