A review of


by Witold Gombrowicz

Central question: Can a book be modern and postmodern at the same time?
Format: 208 pp., cloth; Size: 5” x 7-3/4”; Price: $25.00; Publisher: Yale University Press; Acquiring Editor: Jonathan Brent; Designer: Nancy Ovedovitz; Typeface: Minion; Novel translated from the Polish by: Danuta Borchardt; Representative sentence: “Isn’t it true (I thought) that one is almost never present, or rather never fully present, and that’s because we have only a halfhearted, chaotic and slipshod, disgraceful and vile relationship with our surroundings; and, what’s more, people who take part in our social games, on an excursion for example (I figured), are not even ten percent present.”

Cosmos is the final book by Polish Modernist Witold Gombrowicz. Written in 1968, it arrives now for the first time in English, as nasty as the day it was born. Cosmos is a vicious and uncompromised little gem of the obscene.

A summary of this oddly plotted book might go like this: a desperate man named Witold—the narrator—meets another unhappy man named Fuks in the woods, where they find a dead bird hanging from a string. Later, they share a room at a family-run hotel, whose owners are as indolent as anyone in Chekhov, and who include a sexy maid named Katasia, and another sexy woman named Lena, though Witold either can’t or won’t distinguish them. At one point, Fuks and Witold break into Katasia’s room, and, on finding it empty, they accidentally leave behind a boxed frog. Soon, Witold kills the family cat and hangs it from a tree. Everyone seems headed toward a giant, if oblique, domestic showdown—and yet, somehow, nothing happens.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Adam Novy

Adam Novy teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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