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The stories all deal with the narrator (Bruno) and his family when Bruno was a child. Each story starts out with a beautiful description of the milieu, then moves into stranger grounds where psychological unease mixes with facts. Kafkaesque would be the word applicable to describe Schulz's work (as there even is a story about a man turning insect-like... in this case, the father, not the son) but as researchers surmised, there is no real evidence that Schulz was influenced by Kafka.
What makes Bruno Schulz's prose so heartbreaking is its ceaseless and painful yearning to remember the past; almost every description is a metaphor that is drenched in almost extrasensory feeling. In consequence, every object, every motion, and every emotion remembered by Schulz throbs with a realism that is hot-wired to our subconscious, to our collective and private myths.
If you like reading, you must read Schulz.
Bruno Schulz not only understood this concept but was one of its greatest practitioners. In his short but incredibly rich "The Street of Crocodiles," summer has a "senile intemperance...[a] lustful and belated spurt of vitality," rays of August heat form a "flaming broom," the moon acquires "milky reflexes, opaline shades, and the glaze of enamel," a cockroach's sudden emergence from a crevice is described as "a crazy black zigzag of lightning," and newly hatched baby birds are "lizards with frail, naked bodies of hunchbacks...[a] dragon brood." Every page of this magnificently odd little book is filled with such gems.
Not quite a novel, but more than just a collection of stories, "The Street of Crocodiles" is a set of loosely connected chapters about Schulz's boyhood in the small Polish town of Drogobych in the earliest years of the twentieth century. His use of figurative language instills his recollections with a dreamlike quality that hovers between reality and fantasy, such as in the chapter entitled "Cinnamon Shops," where the young Schulz's errand home to get money for his family waiting at the theater becomes an exotic journey into the intersection of his mind and the city. In "Nimrod," Schulz writes about the puppy he adopts and its delicate, meticulous process of learning about its environment. But the central episode would have to be "Tailors' Dummies," in which Schulz's eccentric father declaims eloquently on the relationships between God and Man, and Man and Mannequin.
Beautifully translated into English by Celina Wieniewska, this book belongs on every shelf of intelligent bizarre fiction next to the likes of Kafka, Borges, and Thomas Mann.
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Born on July 12, 1892, the third and youngest child of a merchant, Schulz lived and worked in Drohobycz, and reflected in all his works his close connection to his family and place. In 1939, the Soviets occupied eastern Poland, and Schulz survived that period without experiencing the deportation suffered by hundreds of thousands of others.
Still, he was unable to work. But in June 1941, when the Nazis entered the area, he was like all the Jews of Poland further enslaved. The infamous Viennese Nazi and Jew murderer Felix Landau also had a taste for art, and boasted of keeping a Jewish artist slave alive on one daily bowl of soup and slice of bread. Schulz survived a year under Landau's "protection," but on Black Thursday, Nov. 19, 1942, he was shot in the head by Gestapo officer Karl Guenther and buried at night by a devoted friend in a Jewish cemetery that has since disappeared, along with his grave.
Assembled here, with Ficowski's 28-page introduction and his 12-page essay entitled "Catepillar Cat, or Bruno Schulz's Drive into the Future of the Past," are more than 200 Schulz drawings and engravings, most of which reside in Warsaw's Museum of Literature. These include Schulz's Book of Idolatry, an early collection of 25 works, including drawings, circa 1919 and later, on which he worked for several years. It illustrates imaginary scenes of mythical pastorals, nymphs and weird men, fawning on women. There are scenes labeled "Masochistic," which are really more fetishist than the sort of full-blown evil one might expect, a series of nudes, and a 12-print section entitled "The Table," reminiscent of scenes from Street of Crocodiles.
In "Jews," readers are treated to 16 prints and sketches of Jewish worshipers, students and scholars. The collection also includes 16 self-portraits and 8 portraits, all of them remarkable in their intensity and precision. There are also several book covers. But my favorite section is the 44-page group of "Illustrations" from Schulz's writings, including The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass.
There is one other collection, Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz, that contains some of these works. But those reproductions are few, and their quality far inferior. To my knowledge, this is the best gathering of the artists' pictorial works.
How much more of his work was lost altogether? We may never know. Schulz' brilliance was incalculable, the loss of his work and world, the more so.
--Alyssa A. Lappen
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... with this book as part of the curriculum, I can only regret that this author is so little known outside his country, as it would seem natural for him to be recognised as part of the world literary heritage.
An absolutely WONDERFUL book. The images not only come out of the page and materialise, but you can smell the smells, taste the tastes, feel the heat of the sun on your skin, as you vividly dream together with the author. No movie, no visual depiction has quite the comparable ability to make you feel like you have been allowed for a moment to step into it's world of imagination anchored here in a small 1930's town in eastern Poland. It contains the light and wonder but also the darkness and pain of living. The line between the two is never clear, the perception of the world constantly slipping into the surreal.
Having been fortunate to grow up with this book as part of the curriculum, I can only regret that this author is so little known outside his country, as it would seem natural for him to be recognised as part of the world literary heritage.
But by the same token - my immesurable gratitude to Simon McBurney whose ability to recognise genius and his inspired interpretation with Theatre de Complicite brought this writing out to many people.
On a more serious note, I think Schultz reflects well a particularly Eastern European identity crisis--the town of his upbringing is a place where the names of the streets change according to who is politically popular at the time; the streets in his town are as malleable as sand--each wave creates its own patterns. A truly engaging and enlightening reading.
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Our view of Bruno Schulz & so many other creative artists--our very patrimony--remains blocked by the ramifications of the Nazi Holocaust. This novel provides a glimpse of that as well as intrigue, Stockholm newspaper office politics, orphancy,deception & Ozick's eidetic extrapolation of Schulz's lost Messiah. I recommend it!