I met Marius Kociejowski at his flat in London, UK, but learned about him from a journalist in Ottawa, Roberta Walker. That meeting evolved into the interview, Casting Himself on a Breeze (2016). This spring, Biblioasis published Kociejowski’s memoir, A Factotum in the Book Trade. They also publish his book of essays, The Pebble Chance, and two books of travel writing, The Pigeon Wars of Damascus, and Zoroaster’s Children (longlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize in 2016). He has published two books on Syria for travel publisher Eland: The Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool, and Syria: through writers’ eyes. Here he is answering three questions for CWA’s tenth anniversary. -DM
CWA: What were you doing ten years ago?
Kociejowski: My sense of chronology is close to nil, but in terms of writing I was close to completing God’s Zoo – Artists, Exiles, Londoners (2014), which is a record of a world journey through London’s cultures, or, more accurately, through the lives of those people whom I take to be emblematic of those cultures – poets, novelists, artists and musicians who have come here from other countries. I wonder how they would fare in the current political climate.
CWA: What place most haunts you?
Kociejowski: At first it was Damascus, now it is Naples, which is the subject of my new book, The Serpent Coiled in Naples (Haus Publishing 2022). Actually when I’m in Naples I quite often get a powerful sense of déjà vu, of being back on the streets of Damascus. Maybe this is due to feeling beneath my feet the ancient stone. Maybe it has to do with the very thin, almost porous, veil between life and death; the city of light, the city of darkness. I have never been anywhere that is so much a mirror to my own spiritual anarchy. It is not a place I could ever leave, such that when I catch sight of it in movies or drama series it brings tears to my eyes. Naples is not in Italy. Naples is Naples.
CWA: What are you working on now?
Kociejowski: I am gathering materials towards a new book tentatively titled Soul, A Travelogue. While it is ostensibly a book of travels through the British Isles, it is also about soul as manifested in simple objects, music and popular belief. What is soul though? And can one write about it without becoming religiose? My friend Zahed Tajeddin cites the Quran: “And they ask you about the Spirit. Say, ‘The Spirit belongs to the domain of my Lord, and you were given only a little knowledge.'” I’ve set myself a task bordering on the impossible. It may well be my undoing.
- Read an excerpt of The Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool at Eland Books.
- Henry Hitchens reviews A Factotum in the Book Trade in the Times Literary Supplement (May 27, 2022).
- Interview with Nigel Beale at The Biblio File.
- “Reading Marius Kociejowski’s A Factotum in the Book Trade is like walking through an endangered species of bookstore. A series of essays that stand on their own yet form a coherent memoir and defence of antiquarian bookselling, the reminiscences of a man who describes himself as a “marriage broker” between people and books is like a strange find at the back of the shop.” — David Moscrop reviews A Factotum in the Book Trade in The Globe and Mail (June 10, 2022).
Header photo of Mayfair bookshop: Debra Martens