A haunting series of 13 interconnected stories concerning the various tragedies and misfortunes that befall a group of people in a village in Poland’s Beskid Mountains

Whether you’re new to White Nights or have read it and would like to explore it more deeply, here is our comprehensive guide, featuring insights from critics, our judges and the book’s author and translator, as well as discussion points and suggestions for further reading. 

Written by Emily Facoory

Publication date and time: Published


White Nights is a series of 13 interconnected stories concerning the various tragedies and misfortunes that befall a group of people who all grew up and live or lived in the same village in the Beskid Niski region of southern Poland. Each story centres itself around a different character and how it is that they manage to cope, survive or merely exist, despite, and often in ignorance of, the poverty, disappointment, tragedy, despair, brutality and general sense of futility that surrounds them.

Summer in Wisła, Beskid Mountains, Poland

The main characters


Mariusz – or Pilot, as he’s called due to the fact that his eyes are always looking upwards – is one of the inhabitants of the village in the Beskid Mountains. Described as being skinny and a bit of a runt, he’s never learned to read properly and is taunted about his exaggerated laugh. He decides to build a pond in order to breed carp.


Andrzej lives with his mother and sister but seeks out work 20 miles away. There he lives in a hut with 15 other men, including his friend Pilot. Piotrek and Pilot are his close friends and he says that they’ve always stuck together ever since they were little.


Womanising and crass, Piotrek works as a butcher, slaughtering pigs. He has a fiancé, Anka, who’s a hairdresser but is out of work so instead finds herself milking cows while Piotrek supports them both.


Henia is Andrzej’s sister who lives with Andrzej, their mum and her daughter Dorotka. She observes the neighourhood around her and contemplates the concept of death, while reminiscing on an old love interest.

About the author

Urszula Honek (born 1987) is the author of four poetry books and one short story collection. Her work has been featured in both print and online journals, newspapers, magazines and literary publications. She is the winner of the Grand Prix of the Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry Competition, the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature Award, the Adam Włodek Award and the Stanisław Barańczak Award, as part of the Poznań Literary Prize. For White Nights, she was nominated for the International Grand Continent 2022 Award, the Witold Gombrowicz Literary Award and Polityka’s Passport Award. In 2023, she won both the Conrad Award and the Kościelski Award, which is given to the most promising Polish writer under the age of 40. Her fourth book of poetry, Poltergeist, will be published later this year. She comes from Racławice, near Gorlice.

Portrait of author Urszula Honek

About the translator

Kate Webster is a translator of Polish to English, based in London. She began translating in 2012, during a three-year stint as a teacher in Szczecin and Warsaw, Poland. Kate has translated many short stories and essays for publication in anthologies and online media and, in September 2018, took part in the Emerging Translator Mentorship Programme organised by the National Centre for Writing, where she was mentored by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. In 2022, she published her first book-length translation, The Map by Barbara Sadurska, for which she was shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize 2023. Most recently, she has been working on a children’s book about holidays and festivals from around the world and a non-fiction account of perceptions of disability in Poland. White Nights is her second book-length translation.

Portrait of translator Kate Webster

What the critics said

Jennifer Brough, Litro Magazine

‘The debut short story from Polish writer Urszula Honek, White Nights, is akin to reading an account of a haunted place – one that is beautiful and devastating in equal measure. The 13 haunting stories in White Nights feature well-drawn characters from a village in the Beskid Mountains, southern Poland. Though firmly categorizable as literary fiction, my eerie detector prickled at the dreamlike, latent danger threading through these interconnected chronicles. Throughout the reading, the text slipped from ethnographical archive to folk horror to a Lorca-esque play and back.’

Paulina Małochleb, Empik Critics’ Choice

‘Honek with complete cruelty, but also mastery, symbolically kills her influences. She stands firmly on her own two feet, moving readers with her own voice – immediately clear, set and full.’ 

What the International Booker Prize judges said:

‘A haunting series of interconnected stories set in a small town in the Beskid Mountains of Poland, a place enveloped by the continuous daylight of the summer months. Through a cast of characters each facing their own existential crises, Honek crafts a narrative mosaic that explores themes of isolation, identity, death, and the longing for connection. The book’s strength lies in its ability to capture the intense, dreamlike quality of its setting, where the natural phenomenon of ‘white nights’ serves as a backdrop for the characters’ introspective journeys. White Nights is a dark, lyrical exploration of the ways in which people seek meaning and belonging in a transient world.’

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; Romesh Gunesekera, Natalie Diaz, William Kentridge, Eleanor Wachtel and Aaron Robertson.

Questions and discussion points

Considering this is poet Urszula Honek’s debut short story collection, how do you imagine her style of writing has changed as she has moved between the mediums of poetry and prose? What links to her background in poetry have you noticed when reading these short stories?

According to Jennifer Brough from Litro Magazine, ‘the text remains grounded in its distinct setting with the village of Beskid Niski being as much of a supporting character as the living and dead it houses.’ How do you think this setting is represented throughout the book and would you agree that it almost feels like a character in its own right?

In the short story, ‘Goodbye, It’s Over’ Mirek says that he didn’t give a shit (about Henia) and that what they had together was nothing. Henia says, ‘Maybe he didn’t want a spinster with a kid, maybe he was ashamed, but when we met, he knew he wasn’t getting me on my own, so who knows?’ What do you think Mirek’s reasoning was as to why he left Henia, do you believe it meant nothing to him?

Andrzej and Piotrek, who were closest to Pilot, don’t attend his funeral. On the day and time of Pilot’s funeral, Piotrek instead turns up his car radio as loud as it will go to avoid the silence while Andrzej contemplates what they had dressed Pilot in and felt as if someone had put a sack on his head and was tightening it. Why do you think they both don’t go to the funeral? Do you think they harbor feelings of guilt or are unable to face their emotions over what has happened?

The short stories are presented in a non-chronological order. Is the way the stories are ordered conducive to an impactful reading or would it have been more effective if the stories were set in the correct timeline?

Resources and further reading