ALEKSANDER WAT - Life and Art of an Iconoclast
Tomas Venclova Published by: Yale University Press Strony / Pages: 369, hard cover ISBN: 0-300-06406-3
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com
The poet Aleksander Wat proved that contradictions could survive within one lifetime. Born in Warsaw in 1900 to orthodox Jews, he sought liberal, artistic circles and learned the rituals and ideology of Roman Catholicism. And though he lived most of his life as a Communist, his experiences in the Soviet Union turned him into a patriot who elected to risk his life rather than accept a Soviet passport. With this biography, Tomas Venclova, a professor of Russian and East European studies at Yale, recounts the life of Wat, whose defiance, knowledge of the world beyond the Soviet Union, and ability to express his sorrows inspired many Eastern-European survivors of WWII.

From Publishers Weekly
Polish writer Wat was born with the century on May 1, 1900, a date and a year that seem, in retrospect, to predict his life as a fellow traveler and as a witness to the worst this century had to offer. The son of a prosperous Jewish family in Warsaw, he became infamous as a Polish futurist and then for his short tenure as the editor-in-chief of the increasingly rabid Communist periodical The Literary Monthly. That tenure would end in 1931 with the first of 14 prisons?Polish and Soviet?through which Wat would rotate over the next 15 or so years. Wat was never terribly prolific. A highly experimental prose poem, Pug Iron Stove, and a short-story collection, Lucifer Unemployed, dominate his prewar works; two books of poems and the autobiographical My Century, his postwar output. Venclova is better as a critic than as a biographer, putting Wat's work clearly in context with other Polish, Russian and Western European writers and also within Wat's own thinking on language, particularly on his preference for metonymy and disdain for metaphor. What is most unfortunate is that Venclova gives little sense of the tumult of Poland in the first half of the century, or of Wat's inner, nonliterary life. For example, one comes away confused about Wat's deeply conflicted religious identity: the son of a Jewish scholar, Wat converted to Catholicism; his last wish was to be buried in a Christian cemetery in Israel; and his suicide in 1967 was prompted, says Venclova, by the wave of East European anti-Semitism that followed the Six-Day War. Too bad, as Wat's life and times are arguably more interesting to Western readers than his work.

From Library Journal
With the appearance of this volume, avant-garde writer Wat (1900-67) finally receives appropriate recognition. A Polish Jew, Wat was exceptionally well read and highly inquisitive. The publication of his prose poem "Pug Iron Stove" (1919) secured his place as a leading Polish futurist. From then until his eventual suicide, Wat coped with shifting but omnipresent combinations of censorship, imprisonment, illness, and despair. Like other restless intellectuals, he embraced communism only to reject it later. Venclova (Russian and East European literature, Yale) skillfully interprets his subject's rich and at times seemingly impenetrable poetry and prose as they relate to his life and times. Wat's mature voice echoed the great tragedies and uncertainties of the 20th century. He spoke convincingly about the evils of totalitarianism but also evoked the absurdity of human existence in other, nonpolitical ways. Of considerable value for academic and large public libraries. Mark R. Yerburgh, Fern Ridge Community Lib., Veneta, Ore.

New York Times, Norman Davies
Above all, [Wat] was able to translate his dilemmas and agonies into magnificent words.

Book Description

Aleksander Wat (pronounced `Vaht`) experienced first hand every political and artistic movement in Eastern Europe from World War I until his death in 1968. Tomas Venclova, himself a renowned poet and scholar, has written the first complete account of this Polish writer`s turbulent life as a futurist, surrealist, Communist, and ultimately a provocative spokesman for democracy. Venclova also provides a thorough analysis of Wat`s extraordinary poems and prose works.
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