My Top Ten – An Author's Favourites by Teresa Murjas

Teresa Murjas is a distinguished scholar and practitioner who currently lectures in Theatre at the University of Reading. She specialises in late 19th/early 20th century European theatre and translation. She supervises student directors in her department as well as directing her own practice as research projects.

 She is responsible for two seminal playtexts which focus on the plays of Gabriella Zapolska:

 The Morality of Mrs Dulska and Zapolska's Women, with a third in the pipeline (all published by Intellect)

 Find out more about Teresa Murjas



Take a look at Teresa's favourite books...


The Mascot – Mark Kurzem
Mark Kurzem wrote this important book about his father, Alex, who entrusted Mark with the responsibility of helping him to recall his wartime childhood experiences. It is a moving account of the complex process of remembering and its impact on relationships. It is also an attempt to document and commemorate an extraordinary and traumatic event; aged 5, Alex witnessed and survived the destruction of his village and murder of his Jewish mother and siblings by an SS extermination squad. He fended for himself in the woods before falling into the hands of the Latvian police and finally being adopted as a child mascot by an SS unit on the rampage.

Street of Crocodiles – Bruno Schulz
The theatre company Complicite based a physical theatre performance on this collection of short stories by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz (1892-1942). It was an extraordinary piece of work, its strong visual imagery recalling the rich thematic complexity and surrealistic quality of Schulz’s writing.  This performance led me to Schulz’s stories, in which he evokes memories of his childhood, in the town of Drohobycz, describing events, locations and relationships in a vivid, sensual style. Schulz was also a literary critic and graphic artist, protected for a time during World War Two by a Gestapo officer, Felix Landau, who admired his drawings. Schulz painted a mural in the officer’s home. He was shot dead by Landau’s Gestapo rival whilst bringing home a loaf of bread.

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Dostoevsky’s 19th century novel, first published in twelve installments, is set in St. Petersburg and tells the story of Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student. He plans and executes the murder of an elderly pawnbroker and her sister, who unexpectedly arrives at the scene of the crime. It might be described as a psychological thriller, charting Raskolnikov’s mental anguish and growing inability to conceal his guilt. He is pursued by a detective, forms a chaste attachment to a virtuous prostitute, eventually hands himself over to the police and is sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia. He is followed by the prostitute Sonia and the epilogue raises the possibility of his redemption under her influence. Dostoevsky’s evocation of Raskolnikov’s ‘inner life’ is gripping.

Shtetl – Eva Hoffman
Hoffman is an academic, writer and musician of Polish-Jewish extraction. She has written several excellent books about the Holocaust, the history of Jewish life and culture in Europe, emigration to the US and translation. She has lived in England since 1993. Shtetl is the history of a small town not unlike the one her parents came from, set in the context of a more expansive history of Polish-Jewish life. Hoffman’s work is striking for its engaging narrative style and her ability to explain connections between the personal and the political in the most unassuming, direct way. We use this text when teaching our Polish Film & Theatre course at Reading University, with great success.

Mary & Lizzie (Plays 2) – Frank McGuinness
I became interested in the work of Irish playwright Frank McGuinness as an undergraduate student. In fact, I had to perform in Mary and Lizzie at Manchester University and enjoyed the experience immensely. This is an intriguing, politically driven and witty play set at the time of the Irish famine. It features two Irish sisters, Mary and Lizzie Burns, who meet Marx and Engels when they arrive in Manchester and show them the poverty raging in the city streets and factories. It is based on real characters and events. However, its form is not realistic but rather, poetic; it features songs and verse and some fascinating characters, such as a dancing pig and a group of women who live in the trees. It features as one of the plays in this collection.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H Lawrence
Even prior to reading this novel, I was aware of the scandal surrounding its publication. The first edition was printed in Florence in 1928 and the book could not be published openly in the UK until 1960 on account of its detailed and explicit account of a physical relationship between a working class man and an aristocratic woman. The publisher was subsequently prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. Lawrence drew inspiration for his settings from Ilkeston in Derbyshire, which is down the road from where I was born, hence my initial interest in it. Re-reading the book more recently I have been struck by its depictions of both a generation affected by the First World War and the degradation of men working in the coal mines. These are the social and economic contexts within which Lawrence situates the erotic relationship that develops between Mellors and Connie, which contrasts starkly with the detachment and dissociation generated by conflict and poor working conditions.

Oxford Thesaurus of English
For a theatre translator like me, this book is an invaluable resource. Sometimes the right word just won’t come to mind and so I consult the thesaurus very often for practical reasons. It can also be rather like a maze where I can lose myself for hours, exploring possible connections between words and discovering the pleasures of potential new meanings.

Rutherford and Son – Githa Sowerby
This naturalistic, feminist play was written in 1912 and its first performances caused an international sensation. This was partly because the play launches a devastating attack on the forces of capitalism and partly because the playwright was a woman; critics had automatically assumed that the K.G Sowerby mentioned in the programme was a man. Following her success with this text, Sowerby fell into obscurity, though she continued to write and it is only relatively recently that the play has been revived more frequently. A biography is also currently being written about the playwright and will be published shortly. Sowerby’s achievements have long been underestimated and her theatrical rehabilitation is long overdue.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
When Jeremy Brett flared his incomparable nostrils, ‘became’ Sherlock Holmes and twitched the flowery curtains of the upstairs room at 22b Baker Street to reveal the pavement below, I was hooked. In fact, this British TV series based on Conan Doyle’s detective stories first fired my interest in 19th century literature and theatre. Reading the stories and watching the series in tandem is a treat I reserve for my holidays. This marathon event is always accompanied by several large mugs of coffee.

Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland’s Present – Norman Davies
Davies is a leading British historian who has written definitive histories of Poland, Europe and the British Isles. This is a concise work (first written in 1984, developed and last updated with a new chapter in 2000) that at the same time manages to convey breadth and scope. Interestingly, Davies begins his history in the late 20th century, after Jaruzelski’s imposition of Martial Law, and works backwards to suggest patterns of cause and effect. It is an excellent introduction to histories of Poland, including the more expansive God’s Playground, also written by Davies in the early 1980s.



Are you part of the Intellect community? Then send us your top ten...It doesn't have to be books, you can send us your top ten films, works of art or whatever you like (within reason!).


For more information contact James Campbell

Posted by James Campbell at 10:53 (1) comments
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Peter Kubicek  Said...

 A number of scholars have questioned the veracity of "The Mascot" by Mark Kurzem.  The questions were first raised by the Latvian community in Australia who knew Alex Kurzem as one of their own. Alex never answered their questions and referred them to his son, Mark, who lived in England. Neither Mark nor his publisher were forthcoming with answers. Their only interest lay in selling more books.  Unfortunately, Mark Kurzem recently died.

Some scholars in the U.S. are now pursuing the trail.  Keep posted: the story may soon be proven to be fiction.

December 22, 2009 20:56