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Witold Gombrowicz, Lillian Vallee

A unique voice in Polish literature

A Treatise on Shelling Beans - Bill Johnston, Wiesław Myśliwski

Like the author's earlier novel, Stone upon Stone, this book features as its hero a narrator who is far from "heroic." As he relates his life story to a mysterious visitor who's shown up on his doorstep to buy beans, he seems to be just a garrulous old guy of peasant origins who's had an eventful life. Except he's a musician. And he reads books every night. In fact, it turns out that his observations are not at all what you might expect from a former farm boy. He has quirky insights that are sometimes amusing and sometimes rather poignant. For example, he feels himself to have been entirely the victim of chance, both for good and for ill. His story, which comes out nonchronologically and in fragments, seems both particular to him and to symbolize the fate of Poland itself. A wonderful meditation on history and on life, beautifully translated. Maybe not quite as transcendent as Stone upon Stone, but masterpiece as well.