A unique and wonderfully entertaining collection of reflections and fictions. Now in his 70s, Herling is known for stories published under the title The Island (1967) and for a much-acclaimed memoir of his two years in a Soviet labor camp, A World Apart (1986). The Polish writer, who lives in Naples, has been publishing brief pieces, elegant journal entries, in the Polish exile periodical Kultura for two and a half decades. The publication in English of this excellent selection of them is cause for celebration. Herling is a virtuoso of his chosen genre. His little pieces—most are only a page or two—are rich in a rare sort of intelligence that is specifically literary in two ways. First, his imagination is steeped in the European and American literary tradition. For Herling the bond between art and life is strong. His is a way of knowing the world that enables him, for example, to see how Joseph Conrad's fiction can be brought to bear—subtly, compellingly, effortlessly—on the problem of Italian terrorism in the 1970s. Second, thanks to Strom's fine translation, Herling's gift for prose comes through as forthright and unpretentious yet also elegant. Style and insight fuse seamlessly in these bright, hard gemstones, and in some sense style even becomes insight. His language reveals the hidden depths in otherwise ordinary experience. His topics range widely from literature and art to politics, history, and religion. What finally binds this disparate collection into a whole, though, is the uniformly intense quality of attention that he devotes to each of his subjects. A literary performance of the highest order by a writer too little known in this country.
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