SELF-PORTRAIT WITH WOMAN by Andrzej Szczypiorski


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 A meditative, harshly lyrical, frequently funny--and unfortunately talky--character study by the acclaimed Polish author of The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman (1990) and A Mass for Arras (1993). Kamil is an aging Polish intellectual whose flickering love life provides his only stay against confusion in an adversary culture in which he feels himself becoming more and more a nonperson. When he's invited to be interviewed as part of an oral history project documenting the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe as experienced by selected ordinary citizens, he travels to Geneva, where he's met by his guide, a handsome middle-aged married woman whom he immediately prepares to seduce. As their ``interview'' proceeds, Kamil tells her the story of his life in terms of his relationships--innocent and exploitative, romantic and bluntly carnal--with ``women [who] didn't save themselves for the future, because no one believe[d] in any kind of future.'' The wider context is only thinly sketched in, and we're frustrated by teasing glimpses of the life Kamil has left behind in Warsaw. More effective variation is provided by his fantasized conversations with a prickly soulmate mischievously identified as ``Schubert'' and by a hallucinatory description of his wartime experiences- -disturbingly sexual--in a German prison camp. Szczypiorski's antihero is the sort of lover who, involved with an accomplished and dedicated woman doctor, finds that the life she lives beyond him erodes his need for her. For all that, Kamil's funereal humor in observing his own rapacious nature makes him oddly likable--and it's hard to dismiss outright a cynic who speculates that God must be Polish because He means well but seems to botch everything He creates. An urbane and bleakly amusing romp, if something less than a fully successful novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8021-1567-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1995