Omnibus edition of the beguiling, sometimes-unsettling fiction of the great Polish-Jewish writer Schulz, an early victim of the Holocaust.
Schulz has been translated into English since the early 1960s, with his book Sanitarium Under the Sign of the Hourglass included in Philip Roth’s series of Eastern European writers for Penguin. That book is translated afresh and included here along with the collection of short fiction previously issued in the U.S. as Street of Crocodiles, here presented under its original title as Cinnamon Shops. The latter title is emblematic; says the narrator, “I call them cinnamon shops because they are paneled with dark, cinnamon-colored wainscoting,” but one has the sense that the shops are so-called because cinnamon would have been an exotic import from some distant outside that magically appeared in a city center made up of strange houses with endless interiors to explore, even if the exterior might be a “market square…swept clean of dust by hot winds, like a biblical desert.” In one such house, a young man wanders the halls, visiting faraway corners and mapping a territory with “no fixed number of rooms,” where a wrong turn could lead one into “a veritable labyrinth of unfamiliar apartments and passageways” that were the domain of gigantic cockroaches and a father absorbed by books, mathematical equations, and failing health. In both collections, as well as some hitherto unpublished stories, it is clear that the father in question is often a stand-in for a remote divinity who doesn’t always do well by his charges. In obvious homage to Kafka, the father is also sometimes a victim of strange events, as when a householder turns into a crab: “Boiled, losing legs along the way, he had dragged himself onward with his remaining strength, onto his homeless journey, and we never laid eyes on him again.”
Few storytellers are as at home in the fabulous, mysterious world of childhood. A major author who deserves a broad readership, now well-served by this rich collection.