Baltazar : Autobiography - Sławomir Mrożek
There is a connection between Sławomir Mrożek's autobiography and his Dziennik powrotu / A Journal of Return, published in 2000. This time - as Noir sur Blanc point out - the writer goes back to the time of his childhood and youth, up to his emigration from Poland in 1962.
Source of Polish version: noir.pl
- Baltazar. Autobiografia / Autobiography
Oficyna Literacka "Noir sur Blanc", Warszawa 2006
120 x 170, 260 pages, hardcover or paperback
The book has been nominated for the 2007 Nike Literary Award.
A BOOK AS MEDICINE
[Excerpts from the described book are translations made for the purpose of this article; for the original text go to the
This book was meant as medicine. Five years ago Slawomir Mrozek suffered a massive stroke. He lost his power of speech and writing as a result. With time, it was recommended that Mrozek try writing as a therapy facilitating his return to normal functioning. The playwright thus began to jot down the history of his colourful life - learning about himself, learning to write, learning his own memory. These notes make up an extraordinary book.
Of course Baltazar... is not an exhaustive biography. Mrozek does not recount his entire life in the proper order and in detail, himself existing on the pages of Baltazar... simply as a person, practically not appearing as the playwright popular all over the world. What he tries to capture are personal images that remain in his memory, sometimes an important private event, more often just the atmosphere in which he was immersed. This writing method, though it was probably unintentional and most likely not planned, is illustrated well by this excerpt: "In May I got an ear infection, then my sister stuck the scissors in her eye, and the long awaited landing of the Allied forces in Normandy did not come about until 6 June 1944". In this sense Baltazar... is more of the story of a life than the story of a brilliant career.
The reminiscing begins from the earliest years - from Prokocim where the writer's parents originally lived, through pre-war Krakow to which they were soon to move, to the Nazi occupation years which he spent in Borzecin. Mrozek devotes quite a lot of space to various post-war perturbations - his architecture studies which quickly bored him, his friendships, including with Leszek Herdegen, his foolish debut report from Nowa Huta published in "Przekroj", his first Krakow literary mentors from the Writers' House in Krupnicza Street, his writing for "Dziennik Polski". Also, his brief, naïve faith in communism, of which he writes: "At 20, I was prepared to adopt any ideological proposal without looking it in the mouth, as long as it was revolutionary. ... I was lucky anyway not to have been born in Germany, in - say - 1913. I would have been a Nazi, because the recruitment technique was the same".
Of course Baltazar... includes fragments where Mrozek's special sense of humour comes to the fore, like the scene of reading the "Workers' Calendar 1949". The text was boring and Mrozek remembered nothing; well, just one thing: "Boleslaw Bierut [who presided over the communist regime in Poland till his death in 1956] was born in Rury Jezuickie [Jesuits' Pipes]".
If Baltazar... is an unusual book, then it is probably because it most often assumes a tone characteristic of a mature man - a peaceful tone, a tone of consent to events being as they are. Even in the years of his greatest theatrical successes, Slawomir Mrozek had the reputation of an absurdist; the young Krakow graphic artist and writer of humorous sketches was defined simply as a satirist in the 1950's, and especially silly things were popularly described as coming "straight from Mrozek". Here, meanwhile, we see an almost unknown and surprising side to this writer. It is the serious scenes that leave the strongest impression, including the memory of the frightening night when his father told him about his mother's serious illness, or the final hospital visit - the memory of his brief meeting with his mother as she lay dying of tuberculosis.
Author: Marek Radziwon, wiadomosci.gazeta.pl, May 29, 2007 - Polish version