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Pornografia: A Novel Hardcover – November 3, 2009

4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gombrowicz's strange, bracing final novel probes the divide between young and old while providing a grotesque evocation of obsession. While recuperating from wartime Warsaw in the Polish countryside, the unnamed narrator and his friend, Fryderyk, attempt to force amour between two local youths, Karol and Henia, as a kind of a lewd entertainment. They become increasingly frustrated as they discover that the two have no interest in one another, and the games are momentarily stopped by a local murder and a directive to assassinate a rogue member of the Polish resistance. Gombrowicz connects these threads magnificently in a tense climax that imbues his novel with a deep sense of the absurd and multiplies its complexity. Gombrowicz is a relentless psychoanalyzer and a consummate stylist; his prose is precise and forceful, and the narrator's strained attempts to elucidate why he takes such pleasure at soiling youth creepily evoke authentic pride and disgust. Borchardt's translation (the first into English from the original Polish) is a model of consistency, maintaining a manic tone as it navigates between lengthy, comma-spliced sentences and sharp, declarative thrusts. (Nov.)
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"Probably the most important twentieth-century novelist most Western readers have never heard of." -- Benjamin Paloff

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1 edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119255
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119254
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,078,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific translation of a classic of European literature that has not been widely read here in the States. By turns hilarious and harrowing, Pornografia is full of gorgeous prose and turns of phrase that last long in the memory (a garden in the late afternoon is described as "weary;" night is said to slip into nooks and crannies like ink). The story is a carefully-calibrated turn of psychological manipulation and obsession; as Gombrowicz turns the screws, the reader's psyche feels the pressure. Unusual and vivid.
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Format: Paperback
When reaching the end of a novel, rarely do I have so much to say, and also so little. This was my first experience with Gombrowicz, and it was a bewildering, exciting one. It has elective affinities with Kundera that make it a unique, and not wholly pleasurable, read. About one third of the way through the novel, I wasn't sure that I would make it the rest of the way. The purely distilled, unrelenting psychological depictions of its characters and occasional absurdism can sometimes make it arduous, but this eventually lets up a bit. I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did. I think I had insisted a bit too much before I even began reading the novel that it would have somehow relate to the War, our relation to it, and how we react to it.

As has already been noted by other reviewers, the title is appropriate, but the novel is not "pornographic" in the sense that we usually use the word. Perhaps that's why "Seduction" has often been used as a translation in the past. Instead the pornography here is a perversely pathological inspection of its central characters. While the novel is set only in Poland, Gombrowicz actually fled Poland shortly before the outbreak of World War II, thinking that he would wait it out; he would remain there for almost twenty-five years.

The two main characters in the novel, Fryderyk and Witold (again, like Coetzee, Gombrowicz tempts the reader with autobiography by using his name), conspire to get Henia and Karol romantically interested in one another, even though they hardly notice each other, and Henia is already engaged to a young attorney. Witold initially is the one who shows an interest in the young couple, however Fryderyk's interest soon comes to border on the obsessive, conniving to have Henia's fiancée catch them in a romantic tryst.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a darkly comic masterpiece. Sam Lipsyte`s terrific introduction to this new translation provides a lot of helpful context. Gombrowicz is a master of comic escalation--the tension builds and builds and builds.
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Format: Hardcover
There is a lot of symbolism in Pornografia, the writing is based on wrapping words around themselves, in a way that would show how the narrator and characters involved with him are wrapped around in his mind. The writing style itself is rather unique and I can't quite place a finger on having read too much like it, nor can I find a way to truly describe what it is I experienced. For the most part, I found myself realizing that I was as much a witness to the action as any of the other characters, but my perception of what the actions were ended up being reflected back at me as I was reading. The narrator seems to fictionalize or assume things quite often, taking a simple gesture and reading plenty into it, even so much as to create relationships that don't exist, and in a way this reflects authors or readers who put too much into a single phrase or gesture. By the end, I was laughing at myself because I had always been the type of person who was unsure why people tried to read meaning into everything that was written, yet here I was trying to do exactly that with the book I had just finished.

With the basic story revolving around a gentleman, his strange traveling companion and their acquaintances, all trying to avoid wartime out on the country, this is not your typical story where something builds to a dramatic conclusion. It is more an account of events as they were perceived and actions that were carried out as a result. Even if I hadn't experienced anything of the sort before and found the book somewhat unusual, it was enjoyable to experience.
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