Since Czeslaw Milosz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, many of his books have become available in translation, but until the appearance of Donald Davie’s CZESLAW MILOSZ AND THE INSUFFICIENCY OF LYRIC in 1986, no critical studies of Milosz had been published in English. Davie’s book is excellent but quite short, and covers only a small part of Milosz’s work, so CONVERSATIONS WITH CZESLAW MILOSZ fills a definite need.
At first glance, Milosz would seem an unpromising interview subject. His memoir NATIVE REALM: A SEARCH FOR SELF-DEFINITION is notable for its extreme reticence concerning the personal details that are the stuff of most autobiographies. Yet while Milosz continues to keep his private life largely off-limits, these conversations are extraordinarily generous in their self-revelation. In talking about his work, about books and writers and the questions that have haunted him, Milosz is candid and charming in equal measure, quick to deflate images of himself that he regards as excessively lofty or otherwise false-- particularly the unwanted role of “poet of the Polish diaspora.”
This volume (superbly translated by Richard Lourie) combines two books originally published in Polish independently of each other by Aleksander Fiut, in 1981, and Ewa Czarnecka, in 1983. (Czarnecka’s book included a section of critical analysis, omitted here.) Certainly, it is Milosz who is most responsible for raising this compilation above the level of the typical literary interview, but Czarnecka and Fiut also deserve credit: Their questions are lively, detailed, and often unexpected, rarely straying into the banal or the pedantic. Anyone who has been engaged by Milosz’s works will want to read this book.