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.
The biography 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. Miłosz reveals how that wisdom was tempered by experience even as the poet retained a childlike wonder in a misbegotten world.
“[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
The biography is impeccably researched. Letters and unpublished materials abound. But that alone doesn’t account for the striking success of this work. It’s also translated into English by Aleksandra and Michael Parker, who deserve more than the standard “competent” or “workmanlike” praise that translators unfortunately too often receive. What they’ve done is transferred the living flame of two minds, both author and subject, to a new place without loss of light or heat. Translation is always an experiment with the impossible, and in Miłosz the Parkers have achieved exactly that. Franaszek’s elegant commentary and impeccable sense of proportion (he knows exactly when to step back and let Miłosz speak for himself) breathe on the living page. And so it appears that everyone – translators, author, and Miłosz – are accomplices in the collective conservation of our deepest experiences and the exploration of the most profound existential themes – Scott Beauchamp, Dublin Review of Books.
“An immersive narrative, one that lends Milosz’s poems a new depthof 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
“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
“It took Franaszek ten years to compose this life of Milosz… 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 Milosz’s writing that make it almost an anthology of his poetry and essays… Milosz’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
“Franaszek’s award-winning book is the first biography of the poet, based on thorough research and providing information on many hitherto unknown facts of Miłosz’s life, especially his well-guarded private life… Its English version has been impeccably translated and edited by Aleksandra and Michael Parker, who also did a wonderful job of adapting the book to the requirements of the Anglophone market and abridging it to 500 pages (as opposed to almost one thousand in Polish). The translators did something even more valuable: they wrote informative, explanatory passages which introduce English-speaking readers to historical and social background” – Jerzy Jarniewicz, Arete