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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

Another Beauty

Adam Zagajewski

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Another Beauty

Title: Another Beauty
Author: Adam Zagajewski
Genre: Memoir
Written: 1998 (Eng.: 2000)
Length: 221 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: Another Beauty - US
Another Beauty - UK
Another Beauty - Canada
  • Translated by Clare Cavanagh
  • Polish title: W cudzym pieknie

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-composed poet's memoir, good slice of life in communist Poland

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
National Review A 31/12/2000 Carol Iannone
The New Republic A 19/3/2001 Susan Sontag
The NY Rev. of Books . 9/5/2002 Charles Simic
The NY Times A- 24/8/2000 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. B 24/9/2000 Sunil Iyengar

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but generally very positive.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(D)espite the pessimism, irony, and stylistic coldness of many of the modern writers he has read, as well as the loss of the divine in the modem world, Zagajewski finds that he is still, to borrow Wordsworth's phrase, "surprised by joy." " - Carol Iannone, National Review

  • "Inveterately prescriptive, occasionally sententious, Zagajewski is too shrewd, too respectful of common or ordinary wisdom, not to see the limits of each of the positions that surround and make sense out of his abiding passions." - Susan Sontag, The New Republic

  • "His prose is dazzling and so is the translation by Clare Cavanagh." - Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books

  • "Mr. Zagajewski places himself at an opposite end from the French-Romanian E.M.Cioran, compiler of an epigrammatic encyclopedia of despair. He, to the contrary, can write only out of happiness." - Richard Eder, The New York Times

  • "Paradoxically, the narrator diminishes in clarity as his past recedes. The closer we get to the present, the hazier the details become." - Sunil Iyengar, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Adam Zagajewski's meandering memoir is presented in bursts of prose. A few sections extend over a few pages, but there are many passages that are only a line or two in length. The work follows a sort of chronology, but Zagajewski writes determinedly from the present, often interrupting the flow of the narrative with seemingly unrelated observations and thoughts. Another Beauty is a diffuse text, but its focus on the poet's life -- the emphasis on poet and poetry -- makes it an interesting read.
       Born in 1945 Zagajewski grew up in Poland in all its dubious communist glory. However, this is a memoir less about the horrors and oppression of the Soviet-styled regimes than about their sheer dullness -- and how Zagajewski manages to find intellectual stimulation there despite them. He loves music and literature, and the discovery of rare Western recordings in a store or the unearthing of a long sought for book are moments of great joy for him, a marvelous contrast to the dreary philosophy and (Soviet !) psychology he studies at university.
       Zagajewski gives a nice, rounded picture of life in Poland between World War II and 1981, when he left the country. The small scenes of his life -- an unextraordinary one of a young intellectual trying to find his way, of his student years and his fumbling for a future -- are the usual fare, though expressed with a bit more than usual flare. Curious about many things and fairly open-minded Zagajewski allows for many diverse influences on his life and the lives of those around him. Marxism and Catholicism dominate, but these come in many shadings and Zagajewski introduces the reader to many of these.
       Another Beauty is a poet's memoir, and it tells of Zagajewski becoming a poet (he was a late bloomer) and of being a poet in these times, both in Poland and then the West. Many of the incidental notes deal with poetry, both within the specific Polish context and beyond it.
       Zagajewski traces his development as a poet, acknowledging the wrong paths occasionally set out upon. Looking back he can "catch traces of my ostentatious enthusiasm for various leftist readings and clichés" -- a necessary, and ultimately possibly fruitful phase (as long as one passes through it and doesn't get stuck in that rut). Zagajewski believes:

All poets should be obliged to scrutinize the idiots of both persuasions, left and right. The poet is a born centrist; his parliament is elsewhere, and houses both the living and the dead.
       It is a debatable point (especially when he goes on to argue: "That is why poets should always endorse a parliamentary system with an expanded unicameral legislature"), but Zagajewski makes clear why he believes this, specifically in explaining (both literally and figuratively) where he is coming from.
       There are some interesting and amusing tales from his youth and student days, and some thoughtful thoughts. Zagajewski writes well and the book is a good read throughout. There are a few missteps -- so, for example, an anecdote about an aunt, her agnostic classical philologist husband, and the local priest from Saint Florian's who became a family friend. The story is amusing enough, but Zagajewski leaves one piece of information coyly until the very end ("The young priest's name was" ...) -- even though every Pole (and perhaps one out of a hundred American readers) can guess it from the first mention of St. Flo's. There is no need for such games, especially if the payoff is so small.
       There is some name-dropping -- encounters with various significant figures -- though among the most interesting characters are the less well known figures, specifically a number of professors. The book provides a decent overview of Polish intellectual life, but fortunately focusses more on Zagajewski's own experience than on the big picture -- fortunate because Zagajewski is best when he writes about personal experience and belief.
       Some of the brief passages, though not without merit, do seem a bit out of place:
I don't know if Ernst Jünger is a great writer, but I do know that he invites us to a great reality.
       Perhaps it is the Cioran influence (not the worst of influences, surely). These asides make for interesting (and occasionally baffling) interruptions. And despite them the book, taken as a whole, does achieve a certain unity.
       A good, rewarding read.

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Another Beauty: Reviews: Adam Zagajewski: Other books by Adam Zagajewski under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish poet Adam Zagajewski was born in 1945.

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