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(05/18/2008) Polish Memories by Witold Gombrowicz. New Haven. 2004. Yale University Press. Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston. keywords: Literature Poland Eastern Europe Translated Memoir Autobiography. 191 pages. Jacket photo coutesy of the beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. 0300104103.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   Although Witold Gombrowicz's unique, idiosyncratic writings include a three-volume Diary, this voluminous document offers few facts about his early life in Poland before his books were banned there and he went into voluntary exile. Polish Memories-a series of autobiographical sketches Gombrowicz composed for Radio Free Europe during his years in Argentina in the late 1950s-fills the gap in our knowledge. Written in a straightforward way without his famous linguistic inventions, the book presents an engaging account of Gombrowicz's childhood, youth, literary beginnings, and fellow writers in interwar Poland and reveals how these experiences and individuals shaped his seemingly outlandish concepts about the self, culture, art, and society. In addition, the book helps readers understand the numerous autobiographical allusions in his fiction and brings a new level of understanding and appreciation to his life and work. Witold Gombrowicz is the author of Ferdydurke, Trans-Atlantyk, Pornografia, and Cosmos, the first two available from Yale University Press. These, along with his plays and the three-volume Diary, have been translated into more than thirty languages.

Witold Marian Gombrowicz (August 4, 1904 in Maloszyce, near Kielce, Congress Poland, Russian Empire - July 24, 1969 in Vence, near Nice, France) was a Polish novelist and dramatist. His works are characterized by deep psychological analysis, a certain sense of paradox and an absurd, anti-nationalist flavor. In 1937 he published his first novel, Ferdydurke, which presented many of his usual themes: the problems of immaturity and youth, the creation of identity in interactions with others, and an ironic, critical examination of class roles in Polish society and culture. He gained fame only during the last years of his life but is now considered one of the foremost figures of Polish literature. Gombrowicz was born in Maloszyce, in Congress Poland, Russian Empire to a wealthy gentry family. He was the youngest of four children of Jan and Antonina (nee Kotkowska.) In 1911 his family moved to Warsaw. After completing his education at Saint Stanislaus Kostka's Gymnasium in 1922, he studied law at Warsaw University (in 1927 he obtained a master's degree in law.) He spent a year in Paris where, he studied at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales. He was less than diligent in his studies, but his time in France brought him in constant contact with other young intellectuals. He also visited the Mediterranean. When he returned to Poland he began applying for legal positions with little success. In the 1920s he started writing, but soon rejected the legendary novel, whose form and subject matter were supposed to manifest his 'worse' and darker side of nature. Similarly, his attempt to write a popular novel in collaboration with Tadeusz Kepinski turned out to be a failure. At the turn of the 20's and 30's he started to write short stories, which were later printed under the title Memoirs Of A Time Of Immaturity. From the moment of this literary debut, his reviews and columns started appearing in the press, mainly in the 'Kurier Poranny (Morning Courier). He met with other young writers and intellectuals forming an artistic cafe society in 'Zodiak' and 'Ziemianska', both in Warsaw. The publication of Ferdydurke, his first novel, brought him acclaim in literary circles. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Gombrowicz took part in the maiden voyage of the famous Polish cruise liner, Chrobry, to South America. When he found out about the outbreak of war in Europe, he decided to wait in Buenos Aires till the war was over but was actually to stay there until 1963 - often, especially during the war, in great poverty. At the end of the 40s Gombrowicz was trying to gain a position among Argentine literary circles by publishing articles, giving lectures in Fray Mocho cafe, and finally, by publishing in 1947, a Spanish translation of Ferdydurke written with the help of Gombrowicz's friends. Today, this version of the novel is considered to be a significant literary event in the history of Argentine literature; however, when published it did not bring any great renown to the author, nor did the publication of Gombrowicz's drama 'Slub' in Spanish ('The Wedding', 'El Casamiento') in 1948. From December 1947 to May 1955 Gombrowicz worked as a bank clerk in Banco Polaco, the Argentine branch of PeKaO SA Bank. In 1950 he started exchanging letters with Jerzy Giedroyc and from 1951 he started having works published in the Parisian journal 'Culture,' where, in 1953, fragments of 'Dziennik' ('Diaries') appeared. In the same year he published a volume of work which included the drama 'Slub' ('The Wedding') and the novel 'Trans-Atlantyk', where the subject of national identity on emigration was controversially raised. After October 1956 four books written by Gombrowicz appeared in Poland and they brought him great renown despite the fact that the authorities did not allow the publication of 'Dziennik' ('Diaries'), and later organized a slanderous campaign against Gombrowicz in 1963 who was then staying in West Berlin. In the 1960s Gombrowicz became recognized globally and many of his works were translated, including 'Pornografia' ('Pornography') and 'Kosmos' ('Cosmos'.) His dramas were staged in many theatres all around the world, especially in France, Germany and Sweden. In 1963 he returned to Europe, where he received a scholarship from the Ford Foundation during his stay in Berlin, and in 1964 he spent three months in Royaumont abbey near Paris, where he employed Rita Labrosse, a Canadian from Montreal who studied contemporary literature, as his secretary. In 1964 he moved to Vence near Nice in the south of France, where he spent the rest of his life. There he enjoyed the fame which culminated in May 1967 with the International Publishers Prize (Prix Formentor) and six months before his death, married Rita Labrosse. Gombrowicz wrote in Polish, however, in view of his decision not to allow his works to be published in his native country until the ban on the unabridged version of 'Dziennik', in which he described the Polish authorities slanderous attacks on him, was lifted he remained a largely unknown figure to the general reading public until the first half of the 1970s. Despite this, his works were printed in Polish by the Paris Literary Institute of Jerzy Giedroyc and translated into more than 30 languages. Morover, his dramas were repeatedly staged in the most important theatres in the whole world by the prominent directors such as: Jorge Lavelli, Alf Sjoeberg, Ingmar Bergman along with Jerzy Jarocki and Jerzy Grzegorzewski in Poland.

 

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