Thursday, 15 March 2018

Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz

Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz
First published in Polish in Poland in various collections during the 1930s. English language translation by Madeline G Levine published by Northwestern University Press today, the 15th March 2018.

My 1930s read for my 2017-18 Decade Challenge, featured in WorldReads: Poland and my Book Of The Month for March 2018

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository

Collected Stories is an authoritative new translation of the complete fiction of Bruno Schulz, whose work has influenced writers as various as Salman Rushdie, Cynthia Ozick, Jonathan Safran Foer, Philip Roth, Danilo Kiš, and Roberto Bolaño.

Schulz’s prose is renowned for its originality. Set largely in a fictional counterpart of his hometown of Drohobych, his stories merge the real and the surreal. The most ordinary objects—the wind, an article of clothing, a plate of fish—can suddenly appear unfathomably mysterious and capable of illuminating profound truths. As Father, one of his most intriguing characters, declaims: “Matter has been granted infinite fecundity, an inexhaustible vital force, and at the same time, a seductive power of temptation that entices us to create forms.”

This comprehensive volume brings together all of Schulz's published stories—Cinnamon Shops, his most famous collection (sometimes titled The Street of Crocodiles in English), The Sanatorium under the Hourglass, and an additional four stories that he did not include in either of his collections. Madeline G. Levine’s masterful new translation shows contemporary readers how Schulz, often compared to Proust and Kafka, reveals the workings of memory and consciousness.

It's only half way through March, but I am pretty confident that Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz is going to be my book of the month! I absolutely loved his rich language and gorgeously vivid descriptions, deep prose and frequently bizarre storylines. Originally written in the 1930s these stories have a sense of history about them. I could picture the unnamed town as Schulz's protagonist wends his way through its streets. Kafka is namedropped in the synopsis and I did notice ideas that could have been inspired by him, particularly in certain elements of Father's daily life which sometimes reminded me of The Metamorphosis. I was also reminded of the Daniil Kharms short story collection I read last year in the often absurd turns Schulz's stories take.

Although each story is essentially independent, repeated themes, characters and locations made reading this book feel more to me like reading a novel than a short story collection. Schulz focuses in particular on the changing seasons, his Father character's dementia and the daily routine of maid Adela. He notices the natural world in its urban setting, giving frequent chapters over to detailed descriptions of plant life, especially wild growing weeds. He also uses repetition of particular words and phrases to great effect in linking the stories. Motifs from one tale spring up again and again to reinforce ideas and impressions.

Bruno Schulz uses lots of words, writes beautifully dense prose and, to me at least, is all about atmosphere, description and character. I don't expect this book to appeal to readers who prefer action, tightly-plotted storylines and concise ideas. Instead this collection is more a slow-flowing river. There is a lot happening, but its obscured and you have to sit watching a while before you begin to move with the current. Personally I loved getting swept up and away!

Forgotten by the great day, all the herbs, flowers and weeds multiplied luxuriantly and silently, gladdened by this pause that they could sleep though outside the margin of time, on the borders of the endless day. An immense sunflower, held up on a powerful stem and sick with elephantiasis, awaited in yellow mourning dress the final, sad days of its life, sagging beneath the excess growth of its monstrous corpulence. But the naive surburban bluebells and the modest little muslin flowers stood there helpless in their starched pink and white little shirts, with no understanding of the sunflower's great tragedy. (from Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz)

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Bruno Schulz / Short stories / Books from Poland


  1. oh ok you had me at 5-stars, book of the month and "deep prose and frequently bizarre storylines" and "sense of history" because man... do I love bizarre stuff?? and I've been craving historical stuff lately !

    1. This isn't the Most bizarre book I've read, but it does come close and I absolutely loved getting swept up in it :-)