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January 27, 2014

Book Notes - Magdalena Zyzak "The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel"

The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel

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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Magdalena Zyzak's novel The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel has been described as "Dostoevsky conflated with Woody Allen," and is a wildy imaginative farce told as modern folktale.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Zyzak’s unique storytelling style evokes the timeless magic of a fairy tale, even as her colorful characters and eye for the absurd break that convention into distinctly modern pieces."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Magdalena Zyzak's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel:


During the writing of The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel, I started listening to national anthems. National anthems are intended with profound unselfconsciousness and must be taken literally.

I found this quite moving, from the Hungarian anthem:

"Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians / Who are tossed by waves of danger… / On the sea of misery."

Hungarian Anthem

The American anthem, in the interest of liberty and justice for all, advises fear and death be equally exacted upon both paid and unpaid laborers:

"No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave…"

American Anthem

As a novelist, economy of language is important to me. Japan's entire anthem is only 32 kanji long, wastes none of them, and contains a curious notion of mineral ecology:

"May your reign

Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,

Until the pebbles

Grow into boulders

Lush with moss."

Japanese Anthem

My fellow Poles, having long been at the center of Europe and uncertain of a great many things, including national identity, seem certain that, if nothing else:

"We shall be Polish. / Bonaparte has given us the example."

Polish Anthem

I enjoy the anthem of Monaco for its honesty and subtle agnosticism:

"We are not very powerful, / But if he wants to, God will help us!"

Anthem of Monaco

Finally, Gabon's anthem, which I've been listening to on repeat lately, gets at what pretty much everyone feels at some point or another:

"Come for us at last, rejoice our hearts, / And banish the sorcerers, those perfidious deceivers."

Gabonese Anthem

As we move beyond nationalism into the global era, I propose some combination of the best lines of anthems from the bygone nationalist era, a sort of multicultural International Anthem, designed to promote universal love, peace, and environmentalism. Something like:

Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians
who are tossed by waves of danger
on the sea of misery.
We are not very powerful,

but if he wants to,
God will help us,
come for us at last,
rejoice our hearts,
and banish the sorcerers,
those perfidious deceivers.
Until the pebbles
grow into boulders
lush with moss,
we shall be Polish:
Bonaparte has given us the example…


Magdalena Zyzak and The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel links:

BookPage review
Buffalo News review
Kirkus review
Los Angeles Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Wall Street Journal review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
weekly music release lists


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