Pornografia by Witold Gombrowicz / ISBN 9780802145130 / 225-page paperback from Grove Press
An outlandish stylist, a provocative philosopher on youth and sexuality, and one of the indisputable totems of twentieth-century world literature, Witold Gombrowicz wrote Pornografia after leaving his native Poland for Argentina in 1939 and then watching from afar as the German invasion destroyed his country. Translated for the first time into English from the original Polish by award-winning translator Danuta Borchardt, Pornografia is one of Gombrowicz’s highest regarded works—a richly imagined tale of violence and carnality set in wartime Poland.
In the midst of the German occupation, two aging intellectuals travel to a farm in the countryside, looking for a respite from the hellish scene in Warsaw. They quickly grow bored of their bucolic surroundings—that is, until they are hypnotized by a pair of country youths who have grown up alongside each other: the betrothed daughter of the farm’s owner, and a young farmhand who has just returned from a stint in the Polish resistance. The older men are determined to orchestrate a tryst between the two teenagers, but they are soon distracted by a string of violent developments: the cold-blooded murder of the young girl’s future mother-in-law and, even more disturbing, an order that comes down from the leadership of the underground movement for the men at the farm to assassinate a rogue resistance captain who has sought refuge there. The erotic games are put on hold—until the two dissolute intellectuals find a way to involve their pawns in the murderous plot.
“A grotesque evocation of obsession. . . . Gombrowicz is a relentless psychoanalyzer and a consummate stylist; his prose is precise and forceful. . . . Borchardt’s translation (the first into English from the original Polish) is a model of consistency, maintaining a manic tone as it navigates between lengthy, comma-spliced sentences and sharp, declarative thrusts.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)