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by Witold Gombrowicz

Paperback, 189 pages, Grove Press, List Price: $14 |


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NPR Summary

Two men obsessively hunt down the person responsible for the death of a sparrow in this feathery existential crisis. Danuta Borchardt translates Witold Gombrowicz's 1967 Polish novel Cosmos directly into English for the first time.

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Excerpt: 'Cosmos'

Chapter 1

I'll tell you about another adventure that's even more strange . . .

Sweat, Fuks is walking, I'm behind him, pant legs, heels, sand, we're plodding on, plodding on, ruts, clods of dirt, glassy pebbles flashing, the glare, the heat humming, quivering, everything is black in the sunlight, cottages, fences, fields, woods, the road, this march, from where, what for, a lot could be said, actually I was worn out by my father and mother, by my family in general, I wanted to prepare for at least one of my exams and also to breathe in change, break loose, spend time someplace far away. I went to Zakopane, I'm walking along the Krupowki, thinking about finding a cheap little boarding house, when I run into Fuks, his faded-blond, carroty mug, bug-eyed, his gaze smeared with apathy, but he's glad, and I'm glad, how are you, what are you doing here, I'm looking for a room, me too, I have an address — he says — of a small country place where it's cheaper because it's far away, out in the sticks somewhere. So we go on, pant legs, heels in the sand, the road and the heat, I look down, the earth and the sand, pebbles sparkling, one two, one two, pant legs, heels, sweat, eyelids heavy from a sleepless night on the train, nothing but a rank-and-file trudging along. He stopped.

"Let's rest."

"How far is it?"

"Not far."

I looked around and saw whatever there was to see, and it was precisely what I didn't want to see because I had seen it so many times before: pines and fences, firs and cottages, weeds and grass, a ditch, footpaths and cabbage patches, fields and a chimney...the air...all glistening in the sun, yet black, the blackness of trees, the grayness of the soil, the earthy green of plants, everything rather black. A dog barked, Fuks turned into a thicket.

"It's cooler here."

"Let's go on."

"Wait a minute. Let's sit down a while."

He ventured deeper into the bushes where recesses and hollows were opening up, darkened from above by a canopy of intertwining hazel branches and boughs of spruce, I ventured with my gaze into the disarray of leaves, twigs, blotches of light, thickets, recesses, thrusts, slants, bends, curves, devil knows what, into a mottled space that was charging and receding, first growing quiet, then, I don't know, swelling, displacing everything, opening wide . . . lost and drenched in sweat, I felt the ground below, black and bare. There was something stuck between the trees — something was protruding that was different and strange, though indistinct . . . and this is what my companion was also watching.

From Cosmos: A Novel by Witold Gombrowicz. Copyright 2011 by Witold Gombrowicz. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press.