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An illuminating prose album of candid musings on the “melancholy and joyful” gifts of art.

Reflections on art, music, poetry, and family from an acclaimed Polish poet.

In an engaging assemblage of short essays, poems, and diary entries as brief as a sentence or two, Zagajewski (Unseen Hand: Poems, 2011, etc.) offers an impressionistic collection of thoughts about culture, history, and aesthetics, circling always back to his family’s experiences during World War II, when they were forced to leave their native Lvov and resettle in Silesia. Uprootedness, he believes, is crucial to the creation of art. Stability may be enviable, he writes, “but it has no poetic merit whatsoever. Loss alone touches us deeply, permanence goes unremarked.” Many pieces coalesce to form a tender portrait of his taciturn, modest father, an engineer and professor, who lost his memory to dementia. When asked once to comment about “the whole strange world that had swallowed up his son,” he replied that poetry is a “slight exaggeration,” because, as Zagajewski explains, a genre awash in metaphor, hyperbole, and emotion was antithetical to his objective, pragmatic view of the world; poetry “confuses the boundaries and lines of reality, which grows feverish and dances.” The author himself defines poetry as “mysticism for beginners.” Acutely responsive to place, Zagajewski recalls 20 years spent in Paris, a city that enthralled him, and many semesters teaching in Houston, where he discovered the riches of the Rice University library and Menil art collection. Other pieces, not surprisingly, consider language, writing, and a number of fellow poets, including Joseph Brodsky (a “brilliant, arrogant intellectual” and also “the most considerate of friends”), Constantine Cavafy (“the Balzac of modern Greek poetry”), Zbigniew Herbert, and Philip Larkin. Zagajewski dismisses the work of some young poets who, in his estimation, “did not know how to live.” Among visual artists, the author admires the old masters; in music, he is transported by Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Billie Holiday, whose voice rendered him “spellbound.”

An illuminating prose album of candid musings on the “melancholy and joyful” gifts of art.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-26587-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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