Andrzej Franaszek’s award-winning biography of Czeslaw Milosz—the great Polish poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980—offers a rich portrait of the writer and his troubled century, providing context for a larger appreciation of his work. This English-language edition, translated by Aleksandra Parker and Michael Parker, contains a new introduction by the translators, along with historical explanations, maps, and a chronology.
Franaszek recounts the poet’s personal odyssey through the events that convulsed twentieth-century Europe: World War I, the Bolshevik revolution, the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland, and the Soviet Union’s postwar dominance of Eastern Europe. He follows the footsteps of a perpetual outsider who spent much of his unsettled life in Lithuania, Poland, and France, where he sought political asylum. From 1960 to 1999, Milosz lived in the United States before returning to Poland, where he died in 2004.
Franaszek traces Milosz’s changing, constantly questioning, often skeptical attitude toward organized religion. In the long term, he concluded that faith performed a positive role, not least as an antidote to the amoral, soulless materialism that afflicts contemporary civilization. Despite years of hardship, alienation, and neglect, Milosz retained a belief in the transformative power of poetry, particularly its capacity to serve as a source of moral resistance and a reservoir of collective hope. Seamus Heaney once said that Milosz’s poetry is irradiated by wisdom. Milosz reveals how that wisdom was tempered by experience even as the poet retained a childlike wonder in a misbegotten world.
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Number of pages: 544
Dimensions: 235 x 162 mm
Czeslaw Milosz was one of the great poets of the twentieth century. He lived through many of its terrors, its spiritual agonies, and the fierce intellectual combat about its meaning, and there is something heroic about the intensity of his desire to name what he saw and make sense of it. Andrzej Franaszek has mastered Milosz’s wide-ranging poetry and prose and deployed them to create a vivid, richly textured portrait of the man, his art and his era. For anyone who wants to understand Milosz’s work, perhaps for anyone who wants to understand the European twentieth century and its terrible violence, this is an essential book and it is a spellbinding read. - Robert Hass
Franaszek’s outstanding biography of Czeslaw Milosz narrates one of the great lives of the twentieth century, and does not shy away from recounting the more private side of the poet’s loves, moods, victories, and defeats. Milosz was an artist who was also a political thinker, who stood in the center of the ideological debates of his time, who was an incredibly industrious writer and on top of all this had a sublime gift for poetry. One of the finest literary critics of his generation in Poland, Franaszek is well suited to his subject. A triumph. - Adam Zagajewski
It took Franaszek ten years to compose this life of Miłosz, and Aleksandra and Michael Parker another six to translate it. The result is a classic of the genre: a biography based on interviews and exhaustive documentary research. It is tolerant, perceptive, beautifully written and utterly objective. It is also an effective critical study, containing generous excerpts of Miłosz’s writing that make it almost an anthology of his poetry and essays… Miłosz’s poetry is, on its own, sufficient inducement to learn Polish, and so is this magnificent and, on the whole, sensitively translated biography of a very great poet. - Donald Rayfield, Literary Review
In a time of great distress worldwide over race, religion, migration, war—and fake news—a truth-teller’s voice should be re-heard. - Sudipta Datta, The Hindu
The story it tells, with sympathy and perception, is of great interest. - Lucy Beckett, The Tablet
Franaszek, with exquisite balance, blends Milosz’s life story with his intellectual and aesthetic journey, enriching both with perfectly chosen fragments from his poetry and other writings…In Milosz’s life, so well illustrated by Franaszek, poetry’s confrontation with history converged with the poet’s engagement, sometimes mystical, with humankind’s most basic values. - Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs
An immersive narrative, one that lends Milosz’s poems a new depth of perspective…This scholarly portrait of a poet who was both conscientious witness and child-like mystic has been skillfully rendered for English readers…Above all, it is a book that brings history down to a human scale. - Jeremy Noel-Tod, Sunday Times
[A] magnificent biography…Miłosz: A Biography will reframe our picture of the poet in a way that will last—devastatingly human, flawed, ferociously strong-willed, living with a daemon that never left him, even into his nineties. - Cynthia Haven, Times Literary Supplement
Franaszek’s intelligent and comprehensive biography should be read in conjunction with Milosz’s New and Collected Poems: 1931–2001…Together they provide a detailed and at times startling portrait, not only of one of the most fascinating and significant poets of the past hundred years, but of what it was like to be alive, curious, politically engaged and spiritually conflicted in the 20th century. - Troy Jollimore, Washington Post
[A] richly detailed, dramatic, and melancholy book. - Adam Kirsch, New Yorker
Impeccably researched…Makes for highly compelling reading. - Graham Hillard, National Review
An enthralling account of the poet’s work as well as the events he endured to create it…Franaszek’s meticulously researched account of the two decades bookending Milosz’s 1951 defection to the West is particularly revelatory. - Micah Mattix, Wall Street Journal
[An] excellent full-length biography...Franaszek’s work moves gracefully between the events in Milosz’s life and his obsessive writing about it. Along with historical maps, its chronology enables us to pinpoint the fateful intersection between Milosz’s experience and historic events, showing a poet who was determined both to embody and to transcend his own historical circumstances, who longed to liberate himself from the times that entangled him…One comes away from this biography with a fuller sense of Milosz’s struggles and his complexity. - Edward Hirsch, New Republic
Now at last we have a biography of Miłosz…Andrzej Franaszek’s book provides an admirably clear account of Miłosz’s long and troubled life…Franaszek captures this life in all its complexity and darkness. - David Herman, New Statesman
[A] compelling, well-written biography. - Diane Scharper, National Catholic Reporter
Replete with poetry and prose quotes from the work of this 1980 Polish Nobelist, Franaszek’s judiciously abridged, superbly translated biography of Czesław Miłosz (1911–2004) reads like a fascinating historical novel…[A] monumental biography…Detailed references translated from the original make this biography required reading. - D. Hutchins, Choice
[A] masterful biography of Czesław Miłosz…Franaszek does an excellent job of dramatizing Miłosz’s oscillation between belief and unbelief. - Maria Rybakova, Los Angeles Review of Books
This is a formidable book. - David Pryce-Jones, New Criterion
Franaszek’s biography recommends itself and confirms the stature of Miłosz as an extraordinary figure. - Charles Simic, New York Review of Books
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