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Ferdydurke Paperback – August 11, 2000

4.7 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This masterpiece of European modernism was first published in 1937, and so arrived on the literary scene at an inopportune moment. First the Second World War, then Russian domination of Gombrowicz's Poland and the author's decades of exile in Argentina all but expunged public awareness of a novel that remains a singularly strange exploration of identity, cultural and political mores, and eros. Joey Kowalski narrates the story of his transformation from a 30-year-old man into a teenage boy. Joey awakens one morning gripped by fear when he perceives a ghost of himself standing in the corner of his room. He orders the ghost, whose face "was all someone else'sAand yet it was I," to leave. When the ghost is gone, Kowalski is driven to write, to create his own "oeuvre," to be "free to expound [his] own views." A visitor arrives, a doctor of philosophy named Pimko. As Pimko talks to him, Kowalski begins to shrink, to become "a little persona"; his oeuvre becomes a "little oeuvre." Pimko, in turn, grows larger and larger. He takes Kowalski to an old-fashioned Polish school, and then the man-boy's adventures adventures continue in a middle-class household and on the country estate of landed aristocrats. Kowalski's exploits are comic and erotic (for this is a modernism closer to dada and the Marx brothers than to the elevated tones of T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound), but also carry a shrewdly subtle groundswell of philosophical seriousness. Gombrowicz is interested in identity and the way time and circumstance, history and place impose form on people's lives. Unsentimental, mocking and sometimes brutal, Kowalski's youthfulness is callow and immature, but it is also free to revel in desire. Susan Sontag ushers this new translation into print with a strong and useful foreword, calling Gombrowicz's tale "extravagant, brilliant, disturbing, brave, funny... wonderful." And it is. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Originally published in 1937, this novel was banned by the Nazis and suppressed by the Communist regime in Gombrowicz's (1904-69) native Poland. While modern readers may not find the book's satire particularly subversive, the author's exuberant humor, suggesting the absurdist drama of Eug ne Ionesco, if not the short fiction of Franz Kafka, is readily apparent in this new translation. Thirty-year-old Joe is abducted by schoolteacher Pimko and placed in a school where "daily universal impotence" is drummed into the students. This institutional belittlement exposes Joe to the brutality of the social, cultural, and political pretensions of both teachers and classmates. Trapped between the expectations of others and the perils of solitude, Joe finds refuge in his own childishness, much as the protagonist of the author's Trans-Atlantyk embraces his own immaturity. Pausing for digressions that impress upon the reader that "the child runs deep in everything," Gombrowicz recounts Joe's escape from the school, his bizarre visit to the country estate of relatives, and the ultimate flight with his cousin beneath a giant buttocks that has usurped the sun's place. Highly recommended for collections specializing in modern and Eastern European literature.DRichard Koss, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (August 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300082401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300082401
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,218,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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The world of Ferdydurke seems at first to be concocted out of equal parts of Kafka and Swift. There is the absurdity of Kakfa: events occur for no apparent reason, and the main character seems to be under some mysterious hypnotic spell. And there is the savage humor of Swift. Violent conflict erupts between the followers of two opposed and equally absurd and ridiculous systems of belief. But as the book progresses, it becomes clear that Gombrowicz has put his own special stamp on this world, and created a type of fiction that is totally unique.

The plot line is simple: a man of about 30 years of age is abducted by a priggish professor and finds himself, for reasons unexplained, transformed into an adolescent schoolboy. The novel consists of the "adventures" of this anti-hero in the world of adolescence, which he views with both fascination and disgust, and from which he remains detached, and yet at the same time with which he becomes intensely involved. (Ferdydurke is above all else a novel of unresolved contradictions.) Although the narrator is subjected to all the humiliations of an adolescent schoolboy (patronized by adults, frustrated by hopeless desire for a girl who disdains him, etc.), he also retains an adult outlook. In fact, it may be said that he is the only character who is adult (in the psychological sense of being self-aware) and who struggles, not always with success, to remain sane. Part of the genius of the book is that the adults in it seem crazy from the narrator's perspective as a youth, and the adolescents seem crazy from the narrator's perspective as an adult. In spite of its simple plot, Ferdydurke bursts with a dazzling exuberance of incidents, contradictions, characters, and digressions.
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Format: Paperback
"Ferdydurke" by Witold Gombrowicz has finally been properly translated into English. Not that this is an event worth mentioning in general, but the point to be made is that the world of translation offers room for all kinds of mischief and sloppiness. Who would have thought that it were perfectly acceptable for publishers to allow translation from a second, and not native tongue? Imagine, for purposes of illustration, that a work of a classic British author translated into German not directly, but from Suahili, for this was the language the book was first translated into. Would you be satisfied with a product of this type? This was the fate of Gombrowicz, his native tongue was done away with, and the Anglo-Saxon world of bibliophiles had had no other choice but to read a lemon. Perhaps this is the revenge of the Heavens on the author himself, for never was there any other Polish author who had his native country in such a low regard as he did. In his "Trans-Atlantyk", Gombrowicz dared to ridicule everything a Pole holds dear, together with the whole idea of a nation as such. Were he to live today, he would embrace the idea of convergence and the global village of consumptionism, as opposed to Europe of Nations. That was one of the main reasons for Gombrowicz's emigration to Argentina, where he spent almost all of his literary career.
"Ferdydurke" is an early novel by this author, and it's never as crass as the aforementioned "Trans-Atlantyk". In fact, it constitutes part of a literary canon in Poland to this very day, and there is no educated Pole who hasn't read or at least heard of "Ferdydurke".
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Ferdydurke is out of print! It has been a battle to get this book openly published in Poland, but look at how English-speaking consumers conduct their own censorship scheme. Yet there is a touch of Anglo-Saxon to the novel's madness: the upper class school boys, the title borrowed from the netherlands of H.G.Wells' corpus and much, much more. The novel questions whether there is such a thing as maturity, sending its main character back to school as an adult, where he is among boys who treat him as another boy (as does everyone else!). It also asks one of the great questions of our time: our characters are made by others; is it possible to escape this or are we merely prisoners of other people's influences? Something for us living under states who idolize individual choice to think about. But Gombrowicz's book is also full of comedy: slapstick, sharp irony, plot twists and philosophical fables. Jokes are used as an ideal way to pose serious questions. Furthermore, in its giant bums and staring contests it shows how much more you can talk about reality, including prudent insights into totalitarian life, through wild fantasy. The experiments of the novel - the unique fantasy, the invasion of the author and the symmetrical interjections - put it at the heart of European modernism. It is a landmark, albeit buttock-shaped.
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Having tolerated, in my college years, the English translation of the French translation of the original Polish novel, I must say that reading this new direct translation into English was a sublime experience. I highly recommend this book to my intellectual and therapist friends/colleagues alike, for it highlights the common struggle between maturity and immaturity. It defuses most of the usual interpretations by those who are hopelessly married to a single interpretive theory. It also should be required reading for those folks "into" Queer Studies, as Gombrowicz, in this novel, wrestles with his own (later documented) homosexuality. In brief, this is one of the great unsung 20th-century novels.
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