New World Avenue and Vicinity

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

Would NEW WORLD AVENUE AND VICINITY have ever been translated into English and published in the United States had its author, Tadeusz Konwicki, not already been the justly admired author of books such as THE POLISH COMPLEX and A MINOR APOCALYPSE? Probably not, and that would have been an inestimable...

(The entire section contains 441 words.)

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Would NEW WORLD AVENUE AND VICINITY have ever been translated into English and published in the United States had its author, Tadeusz Konwicki, not already been the justly admired author of books such as THE POLISH COMPLEX and A MINOR APOCALYPSE? Probably not, and that would have been an inestimable loss for NEW WORLD AVENUE is no minor work; nor is it the collection of randomly written scribblings that Konwicki, perhaps as a ploy, pretends it to be. Written in 1984 and published in Polish two years later it resembles Konwicki’s earlier memoir, or “real-life novel,” MOONRISE, MOONSET, but proves a far more generous and even more searching text. Addressed to Konwicki’s “first penetrating reader,” the government censor, and offered as yet “another book that nobody needs,” NEW WORLD AVENUE is a brilliantly digressive and blackly humorous autobiography of how the author got to be where and what he is and where he now seems heading.

The title refers to Nowy Swiat, the short but important avenue near which Konwicki has lived ever since arriving in Warsaw from Wilno (via Cracow) in 1947, when the street as well as most of the city was in ruins. More than a place, Nowy Swiat is a vital link, both geographically and personally, a microcosm of the new world and the modern sensibility. Beset by memories he can only imperfectly recall, shoring his fragments against the ruin, and suffering the triple loneliness of a man without his wife (she is in the United States), a writer without an audience, and a figure “among madmen,” he is reduced to caring for his aging cat while he himself draws closer to his own ambiguous end, a writer who has the dubious honor seeing himself outlive his books.

From his “niche” Konwicki observes the passing scene, unwilling to shape what he sees in any conventional way or, at times, to distinguish fact from fancy. The prose is not so much factual (though it is that too) as meditative. Like a Beckett character come alive, Konwicki writes because he must, fully aware that, unlike the great nineteenth century Polish-Lithuanian poet Adam Mickiewicz, he is not prophet, magus, savior, national bard. The Warsaw cemetery toward which Konwicki is heading and with which NEW WORLD AVENUE concludes “resembles our life—grubby, on the empty side, and terribly sad.” But the book is not merely sad and certainly not merely nostalgic. Its greatness derives from Konwicki’s persistence in wanting, even demanding something more from himself and from others. “From Ilya Ehrenberg’s memoir I recall again the sigh of some Soviet teacher: ’There is no God—but there is cheese?’ “

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