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November 17, 2011

Book Notes - Marzena Sowa "Marzi"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Marzi is Marzena Sowa's stunning graphic novel that portrays life in Communist Poland in the 1980s. Told from the author's perspective as a young girl, this story is both personal and political and is effective on both levels.

The Miami Herald wrote of the book:

"Yet another autobiographical graphic novel? Sure, but like the best art, Marzi reveals an undiscovered universe of people, places and stories. In this case, it's the final decade of Communism in Poland, and the politics depicted herein are more personal than polemical. The art, by Sowa's partner Savioa, is appealing and evocative, and elevates this true tale into much more than just a coming-of-age story of its protagonist and her nation."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In her own words, here is Marzena Sowa's Book Notes music playlist for her graphic novel, Marzi:


Mostly I work in silence. I can hardly concentrate on writing when I listen to the music. In general, my attention goes to the sound, to the lyrics. Then, I am not very efficient at work. And also I find that music has so much importance to me that it can't be listened or perceived as a background sound. It has to have the main place, it has to be the main activity. It can influence my mood, my thoughts, everything that I do.

But even if I write in silence, music is very present in my daily life. For instance, when I go to work in my studio or on my way back home, she is always my best companion. Or when I take some breaks during the day. I could hardly imagine one day without it.


1. Mocny Czlowiek, it is the music from a Polish silent movie from 1929, but the music is contemporary, made by Malenczuk Tuta Rutkowski Super Trio. The title means "The strong man". It is a story about a man-journalist who dreams about being rich and famous, but he has no inspiration. He decides then to murder his friend-writer in order to pick up his writings and to realize his dream.

I like a lot this Polish band and I think they made a very good job for this movie. I can feel the strength of this song and even if there are no understandable words, the voice adds more power to it. It always puts me in a good mood.


2. Cascadeur "Walker"

I don't listen a lot to French music. This artist is one of the rare I like. I had a privilege to see him in concert just before he became famous and before you had to pay to see him. He is very mysterious. He's always wearing a lucha libre mask. And I think his music is a little bit like this. Mysterious and mind-blowing. I like listening to it when I go to work, on the bus or by feet. It disconnects me from the reality. Somehow it prepares me for my working day, because when I write, I forget the world around me. It becomes an abstraction. I just take refuge in what I write. And just before, when I listen to Cascadeur's music, I take refuge in his songs. (I only have to be careful and not get knocked over by a car when I am walking the streets of Brussels :) ).


3. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Beck - "Heaven Can Wait"

Above I wrote that I don't listen a lot to French musicians and here I add another one!

I appreciate Charlotte Gainsbourg a lot as an actress but also as a singer. She doesn't have a very powerful voice, but you can hear full of emotions when you listen to it: a huge sensitivity, fragility and shyness. Here in duo with Beck, I think they recorded an excellent album together, very harmonious and complementary.

That reminds me of my work with Sylvain. I write, he draws according to my texts. I hope our readers will also find our collaboration harmonious and in symbiosis.


4. Buena Vista Social Club- "De Camino a La Vereda"

I like a lot the music of this Cuban band. I listen to it very often. I think that my interest to it is partly because of the communism in Cuba. I feel close to them and it also arouses my curiosity how the communism can still function there since it collapsed in Europe. They had so much help from the ex-USSR, it intrigues me how they can live without it. While reading books about it or following the news, I can tell it is very tough for the island. And what I like in this music is its joy, it is full of pep and so solar. Despite the difficulties, people take advantage of every minute of their life. They know how to have fun. In their songs they don't even speak about their hard life! And I admire them for it. Their music makes me feel good, happy and positive. I am just curious and waiting for the day when will come a Cuban little Marzi.


5. Bjork "Human Behaviour"

I discovered Bjork when I was a high school student. I immediately fell in love with her voice. I also like her lyrics. When I listen to her even right now while writing down these words, I feel that it goes so well with the little Marzi who always wanted, always tried so hard to understand the adults' word, because she felt it was her right to know better the world she was living in, but the adults didn't communicate a lot. And somehow, at some point she understood that:

"If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready, be ready to get confused (...)
And there's no map
and a compass
wouldn't help at all (...)".


6. Andrzej Dabrowski - "Zielono mi."

It is a very positive song. When I tried to translate the title into English, the Google translator said: "Green I" which doesn't explain a lot.

It means: everything inside me is getting green. It is a very nice, serene love song. The velvety voice of Dabrowski fits it very well.

I have a very precise memory of this song when I was little. It always felt like the smell of morning dew and the sensation of it on my bare feet.

I used to hear "Zielono mi" very often on the radio in the morning at my grandma's place in the countryside, during summer holidays, when she was preparing me my breakfast and I was waiting for it outside, on the grass, in my pajamas, under the cherry tree checking if some cherries were ripe enough to get picked. I heard this song coming from the open window and can recall my grandma screaming: "your feet will be wet!"


7. Cypress Hill - "Insane in the Brain"

Sometimes when I work a lot, I don't realize that I sit for a very long time without moving at all. So it is nice to get up and move a little or even jumping. I happen to put Cypress Hill on very often. It is a crazy song, it is hard for me to understand all the lyrics but while jumping I always sing the chorus with them. It wakes me up and reminds me that I have muscles. And sometimes, just after this song, I put on the same one, but with Spanish lyrics "Loco en el coco".


8. Cinematic Orchestra "To Build a Home"

When I listen to it, I very often think about the life I left in Poland and about my dad. In Poland, or maybe it is like this everywhere, there is a saying that a man is fulfilled when he builds a house, he plants a tree and he fathers a son. My father did the first two. I am an only child and during some time I wondered if my dad would have preferred to have a son. When I was little, I always tried to be interested by the things he was telling me which would rather suit man-to-man conversations. But anyway, I didn't want to disappoint him and I always liked spending my time with him. He constructed a little house in the countryside and he planted lots of trees there. I helped him to take care of them. I remember very well the moments when we were crossing the garden, counting the trees: "here we have four walnut trees, here there are two apple trees, seven cherry trees" etc, etc. We were also making miracles (I tell this story in Marzi) when we were grafting pears on apples. When I was little I was doing the necessary to also be a kind of a son to my dad.

Now, my dad is gone, I live abroad, and only my mom takes care of the garden. When I listen to this song of Cinematic Orchestra, it reminds me all these moments spent with my dad in our orchard. I used to climb trees there, (also the cherry tree in my grandma's garden) and now I still do it in France, in the countryside, we have a very big walnut tree behind the house. It is very solid and I can go very far.
It is funny how one tree, one song, can make you think with lots of precision of other places, other times. Sometimes memories imbricate so obviously, so clearly.


9. Lao Che "Barykada"

I don't listen a lot to a very hard music. Lao Che is a Polish group I started to listen to thanks to a Polish friend of mine who offered me their CD. I worked with this boy on another comic book project about the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and the music is about this period in Poland's history. The musicians captured perfectly the atmosphere of this historical event. Every time I listen to their music, I can feel all the emotions that Warsaw people could have felt when the city started to rebel against the enemy, but when no help from the outside came and little by little, they lost their fight, they lost their city.


10. Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Nirvana is my youth, my rebellion years, my teenagehood, my discovery of MTV after the communism collapsed in Poland. I recall all these moments when I listen to them.

I don't wear huge rangers anymore, they became too heavy for my feet. I don't wear ripped tee-shirts anymore either and gave up the idea of tattooing myself from head till feet (my parents never agreed and I must admit I am not a very big fan of needles), but Nirvana will never be démodé (old-fashioned) for me. I still do love them.


11.Miles Davies, "Générique"

It is a music from a French movie Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) by Louis Malle (1958). I can listen to this soundtrack all the time. I discovered Miles Davis thanks to Sylvain who is a very big fan of jazz music. This music wouldn't be good as a Marzi soundtrack, it couldn't accompany workers on strike, debates around the Round Table, the communism collapsing, Marzi picking up strawberries or crying because she hates scrambled eggs and her mom forces her to eat them. It is a very French music. But, maybe it could describe the beginning of my life in France one day?


Marzena Sowa and Marzi links:

excerpt from the book (PDF)
excerpt from the book (at Pop Candy)

A.V. Club review
Adult Books 4 Teens review
GeekDad review
I'm Working on It review
Memphis Commercial-Appeal review
Miami Herald review
New York Journal of Books review
Paste review
Pop Theology review
Publishers Weekly review
Wandering Librarians review

Cafe Babel profile of the author
Hero Complex interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

Online "Best Books of 2011" Online Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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