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The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel

3.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  57 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
A story of love and adventure in an imaginary Slavic nation on the brink of historic change—the debut of a ribald and raucous new literary voice

Set in the quaint (though admittedly backward) fictional nation of Scalvusia in 1939, The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel follows the exploits of a young swineherd with romantic delusions of grandeur. Desperate to attract the voluptuou
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Douglas Lord
Oct 17, 2013 Douglas Lord rated it it was amazing
For a zesty, magnificently rich literary experience, try Polish writer Zyzak who deftly litters every page of this debut novel with adventurous, dense writing and who wields language as artfully as Vladimir Nabokov or Chuck Palahniuk. The title character, latest in a long line of pig herders, lives in the tiny Odolechka, Scalvusia, an Eastern European backwater village (ten times worse than Moldova) in 1939. There he’s part of a passionate, savage local scene that includes a priest who pins his ...more
Nov 18, 2015 Annie rated it did not like it
Few books begin with a line or paragraph that perfectly captures the essence of the entire story. The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel, by Magdalena Zyzak, is one of those few books. It begins with an ethnic joke, featuring a man who embodies the perceived stupidity of the fictitious Eastern European Scalvusian people. Narrated by an unnamed Scalvusian sometime after the war, The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel is the story of the people of the village of Odolechka in 1939. The eponymous Barnabas chases ...more
Dec 28, 2013 Ferris rated it it was amazing
This is an Eary Reviewer edition I got from It is the author's debut novel and I am stunned that this is a first. This satire/allegory/theater of the absurd story is reminiscent of "Waiting For Godot". I laughed, chuckled and almost wept over the plight of this cast of characters and their slapstick absurdity. At the same time, it is a tragic tale of ignorance and blind acceptance of fear based rhetoric. The kind of twisted logic that cost six million people their lives during ...more
Mishel Zabala
Apr 01, 2014 Mishel Zabala marked it as dnf
Shelves: for-review, arc
Ugh!!!! this is my first DNF. I've given it a lot of thought because I hate to give up on a book and I haven't..until now. I don't think, even with time, I'll be able to get through this one. I thought the eccentric and unique style would eventually grab me, because the synopsis certainly did. But I just kept waiting and waiting for something to grab my interest and all I really wanted to do close the book and start something else. *sigh*

I don't know if it was the writing style, the characters,
May 01, 2016 Todd rated it liked it
Imagine if Charles Dickens' Great Expectations were entertaining, funny, and something you actually wanted to pick up and read. Well here it is! Both stories are about a useless young man trying to improve himself in superficial ways in order to win the love of a young lady, but otherwise they part ways soon enough. Zyzak's story is absurd parody, told of an imaginary Slavic nation with exaggerated clichés comprising the humor, along with the protagonist's (Barnabas Pierkiel, naturally) misadven ...more
Boris Feldman
Feb 20, 2014 Boris Feldman rated it did not like it
The stupidest book I ever ( started to) read.
How does this crap get published?
Jeremy DeBottis
Aug 05, 2014 Jeremy DeBottis rated it it was ok
Ever see a movie, or hear an album, or read a book and know it's good, but not really enjoy it? That's kind of my feeling about this book. The characters are fun and interesting, the narrator is entertaining, and the ending avoids being stereotypical. Generally these are all things that make me love a book, but for some reason I struggled with this one, and found it hard to pay attention. It's not a particularly difficulty read so it's worth a shot, and chances are most people will like it more ...more
Tom Donaghey
Jan 07, 2014 Tom Donaghey rated it really liked it
Shelves: humour
I’m a bit lost as to what to make of this novel. It was well written, the main characters had a great deal of appeal, and the story, such as it is, is fun enough to be worth reading. But in the end I felt as if I hadn’t gotten the point of the exercise.
The author is Polish by birth and now lives in America and I’m not certain if those two facts are germane to the review of this book. One’s history does inform what one can write about and how they go about the writing, so from that point of vie
Jul 03, 2014 yb rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this. The absurdity of the prologue and opening chapters is different than what I am normally attracted to, but it made me laugh out loud. But it never settled in. The gimmick -- the travails of a backward pigherder -- overwhelmed the story. The eventual resolution is funny, if expected, but there are a solid 150 pages of overwrought details that make this a slog to get through.
May 04, 2014 Victoria rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Within a few paragraphs, I had a sense that this was not going to be my cup of tea. I gave it five chapters. I give up. It's just too absurd and ridiculous for my taste. I think this first time writer tried much too hard to find a style that's different or unique and, in my view, failed miserably at doing so.
Mar 07, 2014 Tim rated it did not like it
Shelves: reviewed
I suspect this is in the same vein as the absurdist fiction of Soviet-era Eastern Europe, but it feels somewhat ridiculous by now.
I thought this book would have more potential than it did. It would have been better as a collection of unrelated stories
Anna Shabalov
Dec 07, 2013 Anna Shabalov rated it liked it
I won this book from a GoodReads Giveaway contest.
Basically, I thought this book was just ok and for me that was a big letdown. The premise sounded awesome, Eastern Europe and alternate history are my jam, and then the book jacket had praise from Gary Shteyngart and I got really excited. And all that never really panned out. I didn't find the book to be very funny, I wasn't particularly taken with the use of language, the plot dragged, the generalized Eastern European setting didn't add much to
Sarima Tamashiq
Feb 16, 2014 Sarima Tamashiq rated it it was amazing
I laughed so hard while reading this book I fell off my chair
Oct 01, 2014 Archerjoe rated it liked it
Funny story with lots of Dave Barry-like humor. Absurdity and silliness abound.
Jennifer Ochoa
May 04, 2014 Jennifer Ochoa rated it liked it
Shelves: read-gave-away, 2014
I received an ARC from Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for my review. I wanted to give this a higher rating because its very well-written, but I found my mind wandering toward the latter half. It's a funny satirical tale with comically ridiculous characters engaging in silly antics. Humor is hard to successfully pull off, but the writer is obviously very clever in creating her characters and dialogue. I found myself chuckling aloud a few times and smiling quite a bit. The storyline just lacked p ...more
Brigi Rafini
Feb 16, 2014 Brigi Rafini rated it it was amazing
Hilarious. Plain hilarious.
Jan 10, 2014 Lisa rated it really liked it
The story of pig farmer Barnabas and his quest for love unfolds as the fictional eastern European nation called Scalvusia is overtaken by the Germans. I thought it was very good satire from this first-time novelist - some passages had me laughing out loud - and I look forward to reading more from her.
Jan 08, 2015 Julie rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
3.5/5 A wonderful debut novel that uses humor to teach us about a different side of history
Brittany jeniva Davenport
this was quite an interesting book! very funny and would definetly recommend to friends and family
Ruchi Shah
Ruchi Shah marked it as to-read
Apr 07, 2016
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Mar 30, 2016
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Jennifer Windhorst
Jennifer Windhorst marked it as to-read
Nov 24, 2015
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