Conformity and logical coherence are rudely deranged in a dozen early tales from Poland’s urbane misanthrope (1904–69).
As in Gombrowicz’s airily bizarre novels (Ferdydurke, Cosmos, Pornografia, etc.), lucid, concise narratives are weighted with outrageous premises and absurd developments that recall the work of Kafka, Beckett, Bruno Schulz, and (especially) Ionesco. Everything challenges the reader’s expectations. A peevish recluse becomes the infatuated stalker of a stranger who reproves his boorishness (“Lawyer Kraykowski’s Daner”). The son of a Gentile father and Jewish mother experiences “moral ruination” as a consequence of his parents’ incompatibility (“The Memoirs of Stefan Czarniecki”). An aging civil servant courts unlovely housemaids, protesting his life of stifling respectability (“On the Kitchen Steps”). Ministers rebel inefficiently against a willfully mad monarch (“The Banquet”). And a delicious stew ostensibly featuring a murdered child’s flesh is served to jaded aristocrats in the cheerfully mordant “Dinner at Countess Pavahoke’s.”
Johnston’s brilliant translations vividly convey the radically unconventional content and style of one of the strangest—and greatest—of writers.