Milosz’s ABC’s


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4 out of 5

The ABC book is a Polish genre, a literary form loosely composed of short, alphabetically arranged entries. In this “splendid” volume (Edward Hirsch, The New York Times Book Review), Czeslaw Milosz’s telling eye for detail and sharp judgements create unforgettable portraits as he combines sketches of characters from his earlier prose works and poems with references to real historical figures. Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Edward Hopper, and Arthur Koestler are among those who come under his scrutiny, along with the poets Charles Baudelaire and Robert Frost and the Polish writers Witold Gombrowicz and Zbigniew Herbert.This overview extends beyond profiles of real and imagined people to places that have had particular meaning in Milosz’s own personal geography. His focus ranges from Szetejnie, where he was born, and Berkeley, where he has lived for almost four decades, to places he has visited, such as Bend, Oregon, and Sierraville, California. Fluidly intermingled with these entries are his reflections on broader themes such as “City”, “Misfortune”, “Love”, and “Knowledge”.

Witty, erudite, eloquent, and outspoken, Milosz’s ABC’s is at once a fascinating self-portrait and a unique reflection on twentieth-century politics, poetry, and prose.


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