Born in 1904, Gombrowicz was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1968, a year before his death. This largely autobiographical novel, published in Paris in the 1950s, will sorely disappoint the international readership that embraced his celebrated Diary (Vol. I, 1988; Vol. II, 1989). Calling the novel Gombrowicz's ``greatest accomplishment as an artist,'' Stanislaw Baranczak (Polish Literature/Harvard) explains in his introduction, that it is written in the form of a ``Baroque nobleman's oral tale, known in the Polish tradition as gawda.'' In such tales, the protagonist's self-deprecating adventures are supposedly conveyed for entertainment. (For American readers, a better comparison might be to a cautionary tale or medieval allegory.) The novel opens in 1939, when Hitler was about to invade Poland and many residents were fleeing. Arriving in Argentina with little cash, the narrator (who shares the author's name) goes directly to the Pan Minister in an attempt to find work. The Minister pays no attention until he learns the man before him is an author, at which point he hires Gombrowicz to crank out propaganda. Against his better judgment, the writer is thrust into a competitive literary society comparable to the old Japanese courts in which poets matched wits. Feeling demeaned (whether by his benefactors' jokes at his expense or because propaganda is beneath him), Gombrowicz proceeds to mock people he's introduced to, winning their hearts with such gibberish as: ``I don't like Butter too Buttery, Noodles too Noodly, Millet too Millety, and Barley too Barley.'' The inverted grammar and frequent capitalizations make it difficult for contemporary readers to follow the action, let alone laugh. French and Karsov include a pronunciation guide and a glossary of words they felt would be lost in translation. One can't help wishing they'd thought twice about translating the book at all.

Pub Date: May 18, 1994

ISBN: 0-300-05384-3

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?