I would like to know what "My back reached for soreness" means in the following sentences:

I saw you and Hania slung together, dancing, oblivious to me on the other side of the window. My stomach began to burn, secreting pain like arrowheads, and then the two of you as a four-legged creature, struggling on the forest floor. Eating itself, aware only of itself. At the same time your pleas for trust rang in my ears, your pleas for my patience. The fire in my belly spread. My back reached for soreness, my eyes stirred and dampened. The man was still there, staring at me. And so was the piece of paper.

In this novel which is set in the 1980's in Poland under the socialist regime, where homosexuality was socially unacceptable, the protagonist Ludwik (a university graduate) left Poland in 1981 to live in the United States of America. And he remembers what it was like back then in Poland, where he went to the Passport Bureau to get his passport in order to leave the country. But then the officer at the Bureau blackmailed him with the fact that he was a homosexual, saying he had to give names of homosexuals if he wanted his passport. That was when he thought of his lover Janusz, who constantly tried to straddle between Ludwik and a girl named Hania.

In this part, I wonder what "My back reached for soreness" means. Would that mean perhaps that he stretched/extended his back because of soreness/pain...?

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    It is a very unusual expression. I don't know exactly what it means. I suspect that this may be a Polish expression that the translator rendered literally. Or, if it is not a translation, the Polish author got the English wrong. I don't think it is worth learning this because you will never see it again. Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 15:16
  • it could mean "I felt soreness in my back", "My back got sore" Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 15:18
  • @Andrew Tobilko - All we can say for certain is that it has something to do with soreness and something to do with his back. Beyond that we can only guess. (or that it is a typo) Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 15:20
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    Judging from the latter part of the sentence "my eyes stirred and dampened", "my back reached for soreness" probably takes on the literal meaning of "my back was starting to get sore".
    – user86610
    Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 15:21
  • Dear chasly - supports Monica, Andrew Tobilko and user 86610, thank you very much for the comments. I didn't know this expression is unusual even to English speakers! Then would it be better to understand that his back "arrived" at soreness/pain after having sat on the chair for so long...? Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 16:06

1 Answer 1


Tomasz Jedrowski was born in Germany to Polish parents and is not writing in his native language. This may explain why the language in his novel is sometimes unusual. For example, "My back reached for soreness" does not make sense based on any definition of "reach" on Wiktionary or in the Oxford English Reference Dictionary (which lists 13 definitions of the verb).

Possibly, the narrator's back muscles were twitching for soreness, i.e. they made short involuntary contractions because of soreness. But this is just a best guess.

Similarly, the phrase "my eyes stirred" sounds very unusual based on the definitions listed on Wiktionary.

Saying that his "eyes dampened" is less unusual; this phrase is often used with the cause of the phenomenon, e.g. "my eyes dampened with tears", but this is not required.

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