A Nobel laureate’s musings on random subjects, listed alphabetically.
It’s easy to understand why Milosz (Road-Side Dog, 1998, etc.) chose this format for his brief prose pieces. The amount of random data packed in here—biography, literary criticism, history, cultural geography, philosophy—demands a superimposed organization. Each entry begins with its subject, starting with Polish publisher “Abramowicz, Ludwik” and ending with “Zan, Tomasz,” after whom a library in Wilno, Poland, was named. The unifying thread of an expatriate’s heavy heart runs through much of the writing. Long-deceased friends from Poland, regions of America Milosz treasures, and writers he once read with young eyes make up a large proportion of the entries, which resonate not with nostalgia but with a firm (though respectful) sense that the time each person or place represents belongs in the past. Other essays, such as those on “Authenticity” and “Polish Language,” show how years gone by connect with the present. In both, Milosz attempts to review his experience of Poland. He left 50 years ago and now lives in California, but since he writes only in Polish, he still grapples with his country’s politics, literary and otherwise. “In my rejection of imposing a profound change on myself by going over to writing in a different language, I perceive a fear of losing my identity,” Milosz comments, “because it is certain that when we switch languages we become someone else.” Entries on friends lost in war and under oppressive regimes show, in personal terms, how much the author’s native land has gone through in the 20th century. Milosz links this history to everything from Waiting for Godot to the West’s arrogant blindness in regard to recent events in Yugoslavia. The web woven here, in the wisest and most charming of styles, is intricate indeed.
Fascinating and intimate, a kaleidoscopic portrait of the people, events, and ideas that shaped a major poet’s life.