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My Century (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – December 31, 2003
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From Library Journal
Published years after Wat's death, this remarkable transcription of his taped memoirs sears the imagination. Like Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn, Wat records the life of a political prisoner with agonizing precision, texturing his recall with comic and compassionate portraits of his fellow prisoners and their guards. But Wat's genius lies beyond memorable evocation of place or even portraiture. His work is subtitled an "odyssey," and its true force transpires through the political and spiritual implications of his journeys among 13 Polish and Russian prisons during the 1930s and 1940s. Wat begins as a Communist and Jew and ends as an anti-Communist and Christian who still affirms his Jewishness. Above all, he defends his inner life against monstrous efforts to reduce it to time and trivia. Arthur Waldhorn, City Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"It would be impossible for me to overstate my admiration for this book. It is a magnificent achievement, one of the most moving and powerful books I have ever read."
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Wat is not exactly a household name.Years ago I'd read a book of short stories by him called LUCIFER UNEMPLOYED.It didn't stick with me .MY CENTURY , however is a total success. Wat was apparently at the pinnacle of the politicized Polish intelligentsia of the '20s and '30s .He was not only a published author, he was the editor of Literary Monthly a pro-communist magazine that was very influential and was read by ,among others ,many of the future leaders of Communist Poland.For his troubles he was imprisoned several times by the Polish Government.The magazine was shut down and Wat became an editor at a major Polish publishing house.He largely moved away from politics.When the war comes he moves from Warsaw to Lvov.Staying in Warsaw would not have been a wise move for a Jewish Communist..The Germans took Warsaw , the Russians Lvov.However he knew in advance that Lvov would not be an ideal refuge.Many of the people he knew from his active Communist days had already been arrested by the Soviets.On top of that , while he largely kept it to himself , he had grown disenchanted with Communism and had probably made disparaging remarks about it in private conversations.Unfortunately those kind of remarks tended to be reported.He was arrested by the Soviets within a couple of months and spent over two years in Soviet prisons including the famous Lubyanka in Moscow.His family was deported to Kazakhstan.After his imprisonment he was released and rejoined his family in Kazakhstan.He would get to return to Poland in 1946.In between that time he was rearrested at least once.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in Communist, Polish or Russian history.It gives you the perspective of a Polish Jewish one time Communist intellectual on the events in those countries in the '30s and '40s.Wat is a curious thoughtful observer with a lot to say , most of it interesting.
Both Wat and Milosz went through the communist system and opposed it at the end, but Milosz early on chose emigration, leaving Poland initially for France and then for the US, while Wat, initially believing in The Party and the power of the working class, suffered the full impact of the machine. He tells the story of his enthusiastic youth, describes his fellow poets and writers, then moves on to his arrest and moving through Soviet prisons, without a trial for a long time, recalling other inmates and their stories, the methods for survival, the thoughts and torments. Then, finally moved to the work camp, he depicts in acute detail the life of the families and their struggle for sanity.
The New York Review of Books edition contains also the memoir of Ola (Paulina) Wat, Aleksander's wife, who supported him throughout his ordeal.
Although there are many books of experiences of the communist camps and especially the tortures of the intellectuals, who were torn between the idea of communism and its soon obvious wrong, every witness has eyes of their own and Wat, with his Jewish background and the soul of a Polish artist, makes his own, original statement.