A quirky, offbeat memoir-cum-journal from a leading Polish poet.
Although he modestly disclaims any major role in the Polish opposition of the 1970s and after, Zagajewski (Two Cities, 1995) is an important literary figure who was vocally dissident in the era of the great resistance to Communism in Poland. Here, he reflects back on those days and earlier with a mixture of dry-eyed nostalgia and wry-tongued wit. The author has no problem whatsoever in poking fun at the pretensions of a group of achingly, embarrassingly sincere 20-somethings—never hesitating to include himself among his targets. But the spirit of this book is generous to a fault, particularly in its evocation of the battered and weary faculty members whom he encountered during his college days in Krakow. What makes this volume unusual is its formal structure. Zagajewski alternates between reminiscences of the 1960s and ’70s in Krakow, prose poems about his current life in Paris (and Houston, although the Texas city is almost never evoked), and notebook and journal jottings on a wide range of topics, chiefly music and poetry. Holding this potpourri together are certain thematic threads: writers who opine in "defense of poetry" and what that entails; the variegated effects of music on troubled minds; the vagaries of memory; and the life of cities. As he admits early in the book, "I can only try to reclaim a few moments, a few places and events; a few people I liked and admired, and a few that I despised." The result is a series of elliptical, sometimes cryptic anecdotes, recollections, image flashes, and miniatures.
An engaging, occasionally frustrating, but generally very satisfying notebook, filled with acutely observed moments both past and present.