Five Questions with… Grażyna Plebanek

Grażyna Plebanek, author of Illegal Liaisons and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

IFOA: The protagonist of Illegal Liaisons, Jonathan, is a stay-at-home dad, while his wife, Megi, is a very ambitious career woman. Why was challenging traditional gender roles so important to this story?

Grażyna Plebanek: It was hard not to notice that this sort of challengingGrażyna Plebanek happens everywhere nowadays. In Brussels, Stockholm, Warsaw, I see more and more fathers pushing strollers. Whether it’s the effect of feminism or the economic crisis, the stay-at-home dad is no longer a rare phenomenon. Men are becoming more involved in the everyday life of their families. In the case of divorce, they share custody, half-half. A society of equality has been born, we are half-men, half-women in our family roles, for better and worse. One can ask if this is really good, but that’s another question.

The exchange of roles in Illegal Liaisons tempted me because I wanted to see if a man “playing the woman’s part” and captured by romance would behave like a woman. How would Anna Karenina behave today if she were a man?

IFOA: The novel is packed with very explicit sex scenes. Did you find them difficult to write?

Plebanek: Surprisingly not. This novel showed its own character from the very beginning. The scenes were almost writing themselves, erotic and otherwise. I was fascinated by the process of finding the language for the body. Most sex scenes in literature are based on words, they come from characters’ minds rather than bodies. I wanted to capture the way the body speaks. The lovers (Jonathan, a Pole who speaks perfect English and French, and Andrea, a Swedish journalist with Czech roots) mix languages, which lets them overcome the inefficiencies of any one language. Before I started to write, I feared that Polish could be too rigid a language to describe the passion, considering the influence of the Catholic religion over centuries. Luckily, I was wrong. Polish was a graceful language for this task.

IFOA: What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration?

Plebanek: Parrots. When I moved to Brussels, I was surprised to see green parrots flying in the parks, even in winter. They shouldn’t have survived  here, seeing as they belong to a much warmer climate. Yet here they are, green, noisy, cheeky birds, who displace kindhearted pigeons and sparrows, flying in squadrons like an attacking army. It reminded me of stray dogs from Moscow, who also form packs. The way they manage to survive shows high intelligence. Animalistic intelligence is something that touches the lives of my characters—their bodies rise in revolt against social rules and restrictions. I was wondering if this wild part of my characters would overcome the social uniforms, whether they would turn into green parrots, wild dogs or stay well-fed pigeons.

IFOA: You received Poland’s Literary Prize Zlote Sowy for your promotion of Poland abroad. What do you love most about the country you’re from?

Plebanek: People. When I go back to Poland I feel something melt inside of me, because the people are warm, hospitable. Nowadays they know how to earn money, but they still remember the communist reality and therefore, they know how to share, to give without counting or asking for something in return. I love this part of our tradition as well as our colorful history—the kings, queens, knights, fat bishops—a thousand years of becoming who we are now with all of our complexity. I also love the literature, especially the great Renaissance poets who playfully used our language. I love the sense of humor typical for Polish intelligentsia. I love the richness of our culture. And I love Vistula, the longest and most unpredictable Polish river, which flows through Warsaw. She has always mesmerized me with her capricious character.

IFOA: Which of your novels would you like to see make it to the big screen?

Plebanek: Illegal Liaisons would be the natural choice as love is universal. It would be interesting to see a film in which Brussels, a great multicultural city, gets a new, passionate face that defies stereotypes—particularly that it is simply the city of EU officials. But my secret dream would be to see another one of my novels filmed: Girls from Portofino. This is a story of a friendship between girls who grew up in communist Poland and became adults in the capitalistic reality after ’89.  Warsaw, my natal city, plays an integral part in this story.

Grażyna Plebanek is a bestselling Polish author and journalist. She will be reading from Illegal Liaisons, her first novel to be translated into English, on October 25 at 8pm alongside authors Kelly Braffet, Aleksandar Hemon and Sam Lipsyte.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to this event! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use the hashtag #IFOA2013. Good luck!



Members of our national public broadcaster’s radio and television team host, moderate and interview at Festival events on October 26. The CBC’s Garvia BaileyBrent Bambury, Gill Deacon, David Common, Patty Sullivan and Eleanor Wachtel take to the stage to help present some of the world’s best authors.CBC Books

CBC@IFOA features an exciting interview with popular children’s and young adult author Gordon Korman, as well as a stimulating round table with Brave New Word authors Shani Boianjiu, Sahar Delijani, Anthony Marra and Abdellah Taïa, who will discuss their experiences writing about war in Israel, Iran, Chechnya and Morocco. Bosnian-American fiction writer Aleksandar Hemon will sit down for a one-on-one interview about his fascinating body of work, graphic novelists Peter Bagge and Seth will discuss their most recent books and the English-language winner of this year’s CBC Poetry Prize will read alongside poets Warren Clements, Beatriz Hausner, Christine McNair and Peter Norman. Both the English-language and French-language Poetry Prize winners will be presented with their awards by the CBC’s Shelagh Rogers and Kevin Sweet.

Also this year, we’re co-hosting a very special CBC Books Trivia Night. Come test your literary IQ with surprise CBC personalities and Festival participants in this fun and lively event. Click here to find out how to register!

A CBC@IFOA Day Pass is available now. It offers a chance to purchase a bundle of five tickets, one to each ticketed CBC@IFOA event, for the low price of $50 (plus a service charge). To buy your CBC@IFOA Day Pass, call the Harbourfront Centre Box Office at 416-973-4000.

Kenneth Goldsmith and Christian Bök discuss conceptual literature

On Tuesday, poets Kenneth Goldsmith and Christian Bök were at Harbourfront Centre to discuss conceptual literature during an event presented with The Power Plant. Considered the founders of the conceptual writing movement, Goldsmith and Bök provided a fascinating history and read from some of their own conceptual texts. For a recap of the event, click here.

IFOA 2013 Preliminary Line-up Announced

Mark your calendars and crack those books! We are thrilled to announce our preliminary line-up for the 34th annual International Festival of Authors. From established literary heavyweights to emerging young authors, this year’s line-up features an incredible array of talent.

Over 60 authors—writing in categories from literary fiction to memoir, poetry to thriller—have been confirmed for the 34th annual IFOA. Among those confirmed are Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, Anne Carson, Douglas Coupland, Stephen King, Sam Lipsyte and Lisa Moore.

For a full list of confirmed authors, please click here.

We are also pleased to announce that tickets have now gone on sale to three IFOA special events: readings by the authors nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Tickets can be purchased at the links above or by phone at 416-973-4000.

The 34th annual International Festival of Authors takes place October 24 to November 3, 2013.

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