The son of a village postmaster, Sawomir Mroek was born on June 26, 1930, in Borzcin, near Krakow, Poland. In 1939, the Soviet army moved into Poland to meet the Nazis, and independent Poland’s twenty-one-year life came to an end. Mroek spent the remainder of his boyhood near Krakow in a country under foreign domination. Although he never completed a university degree, the playwright studied architecture and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow; he also studied oriental art and philosophy for a time. His interest in structure and artifice, as evidenced in the areas he chose to study, seems to have carried over into his fiction and his dramatic works.
In the postwar years, the normally active Polish theater suffered from a strict adherence to its Soviet satellite government’s policy of socialist realism; Mroek saw his first play after the war, but he was not initially attracted to the stage. Rather, he began by drawing cartoons and writing humorous sketches for the Krakow newspapers in 1955. The so-called thaw of 1956 removed some restrictions on the creative expression of Polish artists. One year later, the appearance of Mroek’s illustrated collection of stories and sketches called The Elephant helped establish him as a satirist and a writer of fantasies, which were very often thinly disguised, humorous attacks on the bumbling Polish bureaucracy. By 1958, Mroek was editing a weekly, Postpowiec, to which he contributed more satiric pieces. Meanwhile, he became involved with an improvisational theater group called Bim-Bom, for which he wrote a short play called The Professor as part of a presentation called “Joy in Earnest” in 1956.
Mroek, as evidenced by his story “Escape Southward,” in The Elephant, rejected the avant-garde as a supportive environment for creative effort relatively early in his career. In the story, an apeman and three village boys happen on a competition at the headquarters of the Association for Polish Writers in which the participants spit,...
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