17.5.12

Czesław Miłosz - Proud to Be a Mammal


Rating 6.9

This is a collection of essays and writings by Czesław Miłosz with a colorful cover and assembled with a clear commercial purpose by Penguin.  Well that's better than nothing, I guess.

Perhaps I should have picked up The Captive Mind by the same author rather than this one, but while facing the decision I confess how the pinkish cover of this book with its leaning belltower in Vilnuis (portrayed above) won me over.
I thought I needed some sort of lightweight Miłosz introduction.

Proud to Be a Mammal kicks off in a very promising way with a couple of unforgettable essays. Engrossing pages where the author recalls his early bohemian and literary life in then Polish Wilno (currently Lithuanian Vilnuis) and his runaway to Warsaw while his hometown was annexed to the USSR with a bogus referendum.

Milosz has a very engaging style and a soft spot for the vanished Wilno/Vilnuis cast of characters, stressing out the cultural and cosmopolitan mood of the town in the 1930s. The way of writing here reminded me a couple of other self-biographies: Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov and Polish Memories by Witold Gombrowicz.
Also the following pages are very interesting with Miłosz talking about the bureaucratic oddities and the terror of living in "the GG" a term which stands for "General Government" the part of Poland ruled by Germans after the Nazi invasion and the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact.



Overall, 155 pages of Proud to Be a Mammal are pure gold. At least for me.
Unfortunately, the remaining 120 pages of this collection of essays and written thoughts are not at the same level. Perhaps it's just me looking for something different and thus skipping over most of the letter to the author Jerzy Andrzejewsky and being not really elated from all that follows it included the essay naming the book itself Speaking of a Mammal.

I think the publisher made a little mess here mixing up disjointed writings in order to have a thicker book. I believe that less and more carefully chosen stuff would have made a better introduction to Miłosz.

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