TWO CITIES by Adam Zagajewski


On Exile, History, and the Imagination
Email this review


 Short, lyrical essay/poems and allegories similar to those in Zagajewski's Solidarity, Solitude (1990), many of which concern coming to consciousness under totalitarian rule and as an artist in exile. In the ponderous and overbearing title piece, the Polish expatriate (who has lived in Paris since 1981) seems to be constantly stretching too hard for a metaphor, as though he is writing a letter that he wants to be taken as poetry. Many of the shorter entries, on the contrary, seem to stretch quite naturally across the abyss separating poetry from prose. Their themes are common currency for the Western philosopher/poet: the duality of the human spirit, innocence and experience, the conundrum of history, the nature of being, personal and social guilt, and the purpose of art. More unusual, however, is the intensely honest manner in which Zagajewski describes the complicity between the artist and the police state. The protagonist of ``Betrayal,'' for example, admits during an interview that he destroyed the career of a peer who had angered a party member; while attempting to absolve himself for his colleague's subsequent suicide, he learns that his interviewer is that very man's son. ``Instructions for the Secret Police: Introduction'' and ``The Chairman's Secret Speech'' chillingly condemn the communist state through the words of its own organs even as they openly critique the capitalist system that is re-emerging to replace it. Best of all are the entries in ``The New Little Larousse'': brisk, often ironic jabs or mini-parables particularly well suited to frequent rereading and interpretation. In one of these, ``I Killed Hitler,'' a Dutch bookbinder confesses to having assassinated Hitler in 1937, although the very next day the FÅhrer was replaced by an exact duplicate, and the matter was never mentioned in any of the papers. Mature, honest, and as complex as the social, historical, and economic conditions out of which it arose.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-28016-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1995


NonfictionSLIGHT EXAGGERATION by Adam Zagajewski
by Adam Zagajewski
NonfictionANOTHER BEAUTY by Adam Zagajewski
by Adam Zagajewski