Dreams and Stones, Polish writer Magdalena Tulli’s first novel to be published in the United States, dexterously braids cords of memory, imagination, and elegiac intensity, as she give us the story of the founding and development of a major city and, by extension of all cities: a brilliant tale of “these interpenetrating spaces” that become “ever more confused, entangled, diffuse.” Tulli manages with apparent ease to parse the shifting urban amalgam she posits into complementary component parts that are rendered with great exactitude: “The city of yesterday and the city of today can seem like a pair of identical looking pictures from a puzzle in which on closer inspection one may find a flag missing from a rooftop, an additional flowerpot on a windowsill or one more sparrow upon a ledge.”
Like all cities, Tulli’ has a many coexisting, mutually coloring layers as mica. Zones of joy and sorrow overlap, rise out of each other. There are beautiful dreams evoked and, of course (not least, one supposes, because of the ravages of the 20th century) horrible ones. The generative and destructive nature of time is accordingly speculated upon: “Is it that which turns the cogs of clocks or that which the clocks crush in their cogs?” Part of great power of the writing, well-served by Bill Johnston’s gorgeous translation from the Polish, derives from Tulli’s unusually limber, absolutely authoritative prose line. It never for a moment falters as her city of dreams and stones and steel, grows and contracts, turns inward, outward, rushes on.