Meet Witold Gombrowicz

Back in 1996 I was poking around the small student bookstore at my daughter’s college in upstate New York and I noticed a book containing two novels by Witold Gombrowicz. As you might imagine, I wasn’t familiar with the author but when a book is on the syllabus for a college-level course, it usually is worth while reading so I grabbed a copy and took it home. I read the two novels sometime later and was quite impressed. One, Cosmos, was excellent. My comments on the book suggested a tinge of Existentialism, an unusual mystery and enough twisting of the text to remind me of Alain Robbe-Grillet. The other novel was titled Pornografia but it was not pornographic.This was a story of the relationship between a young person and an old person. I wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as I was Cosmos.

Now fifteen years later I am about to embark on my third novel by Witold Gombrowicz. Ferdydurke. A friend suggested that this one was strange and difficult to grasp:  she wondered if I had read it. Obviously not but I found a copy and intend to start reading it as soon as I finish A Frolic of His Own (soon). Here’s what the back cover has to say about the novel:

In this bitterly funny novel by the renowned Polish author Witold Gombrowicz, a writer finds himself tossed into a chaotic world of schoolboys by a diabolical professor who wishes to reduce him to childishness. Originally published in Poland in 1937, Ferdydurke became an instant literary sensation and catapulted its your author to fame. Deemed scandalous and subversive by Nazis, Stalinists, and the Polish Communist regime in turn, the novel was officially banned in Poland for decades. It has nonetheless remained one of the most influential works of twentieth-century European literature.

John Updike wrote of Gombrowicz:

A master of verbal burlesque, a connoisseur of psychological blackmail, Gombrowicz is one the the profoundest of late moderns, with one of the lightest touches. Ferdydurke, among its centrifugal charms, includes some of the truest and funniest literary satire in print.

It sounds like a winner to me and would be a good selection for the Experimental Fiction group. Apparently the new translation is the first taken directly from the Polish and not relying on the old interim French translation. Look for it from the Yale University Press, read it carefully, and share the book with your friends. Keeping books you have already read on the shelves is like saving moldy bread in the bread-box. Throw away the bread, turn the bread-box into a small bookcase, and pass your previously read books on to other readers. It’s an excellent form of recycling and it makes those over-priced books seem just a bit more economical.