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TRANS-ATLANTYK by Witold Gombrowicz

TRANS-ATLANTYK

By Witold Gombrowicz

Pub Date: May 18th, 1994
ISBN: 0-300-05384-3
Publisher: Yale Univ.

 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.