4 July 2009

Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles, 1934

Schulz was said to be the most promising Polish Jewish writer between the two World Wars until he was shot dead for no apparent reason in 1942 by a German soldier on the streets of his home town Drogobych, and this collection contains all that survives of his work. These are very private stories that superficially radiate Kafka, and Schulz goes far into the private world of his family and the central figure of his lonely, mad father whose erratic and strange behaviour is an inevitable preoccupation. This is also what drive Schulz’s stories into more imaginative territory as he watches him repeatedly break the bonds of normality and escape into other, freer states of mental being (though rarely successfully), and the failures of his father in turn seems to drive Schulz back towards the kind of idyllic summer innocence found in the first story, ‘August’. It's sometimes as if the world is all too much for him, a sentiment that drives Schulz’s artistic purpose of ‘maturing into childhood’. Fantastic elements are also here aplenty in the stories ‘Cockroaches’, ‘The Comet’ and ‘Cinnamon Shops’, a few lines of which were a pivotal source of inspiration for China Miéville’s The City & The City. Encountering Schulz’s private world can be more difficult than you might expect, but it does provide some highly entertaining and angst-ridden food for thought if you let it get under your skin.  PY


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